Taking Off Rose Tinted Glasses
This issue of The Publishing Post is focused on Black History Month, so instead of talking to a person hoping to break into publishing, we wanted to speak to someone already working in the industry. In this feature we speak to Hope Ndaba, Publicity Assistant at Vintage and Social Media Manager at the Society for Young Publishers about her experiences and to ask what advice she would give to a hopeful of colour.
What has your experience been of the publishing industry and the recruitment process so far?
I have had a mixed experience in the industry. I definitely came into the industry with rose tinted glasses and some naivety which is natural as an “outsider”, so when I finally started to witness or experience unpleasant behaviours, it was somewhat of a rude awakening. However, I have since built a wonderful circle of support within the industry which has really kept me motivated and inspired.
I’ve only had a positive experience with recruitment but that doesn’t make me blind to its issues.; from where job adverts are placed and whether they will reach everyone, to the habit of hiring in-house or within publishing instead of branching out. HR advisors do work hard to make the experience as smooth as possible, but I think changes will have to come from the top down.
Have you had a positive experience with publishing workplace culture and recruitment?
I’ve had a great experience with Creative Access and the places where I work. I’ve been fortunate to have HR advisors who kept me in the loop regarding recruitment stages and feedback. Publishing workplace culture is 50/50. I really love working with people who I can talk to about books but every so often, the dream is jarred by microaggressions and sometimes macroaggressions. It’s difficult to feel like you are in your element when you are frequently reminded that you are “other”.
Have you ever felt disadvantaged during your experience of the industry? How so?
I do worry about my progression and often wonder if I will be held back professionally because of who I am. Something I have noticed since working in the industry is that many colleagues of colour tend to progress up to Executive or Assistant Editor level and get stuck there. It’s quite rare to see someone like me in a managerial role or at Director level.
Have you ever felt affected by stereotyping within the publishing industry?
Something that has affected and frustrated me the most is being sent submissions by Black authors only. It baffles me how people conclude that because I am Black, I only want to read books by those who look like me. I understand the value of my opinion when acquiring such books but sometimes it can be exhausting. I’ve found that being sensitive to avoiding the angry Black woman epithet means that I don’t always speak up. There’s nothing more humiliating and upsetting than feeling the room mentally roll their eyes while you flag something racist/culturally insensitive/politically incorrect.
Are they any BAME schemes/internships you feel are particularly positive and inclusive? How do you feel about them?
Yes, there’s Penguin Random House’s The Scheme and Hachette’s Fresh Chapters Publishing Traineeship which have developed very successful alumni. Their schemes are very exciting and have shown themselves to be quite successful. I think what’s important is that companies treat schemes and internships as part of a process or bigger picture. So, a BAME scheme shouldn’t be your token “look we’re diversifying” activity, it needs to be part of a long and ongoing commitment to building a diverse workforce.
What advice would you give to other people considering a career in publishing who identify as BAME or feel affected by publishing stereotypes?
The industry has a very long way to go but I also don’t want those of us who are people of colour or from a marginalised group to feel put off. We need to enter this industry and be in it for the long haul in order to see the change we dream of. My overall advice is to acknowledge that your career may not be as easy and you’ll face challenges, make sure to have a great support network of friends and peers and to own who you are. You belong and you must believe that. The industry desperately needs you - you’re the individual in demand. Own that.
In your opinion, what do you feel could be helpful to ensuring that publishing becomes more inclusive and diverse? Do you feel the industry is being diversified enough?
I can’t say the industry is being diversified enough because I have witnessed the same conversations today as we had years ago before I entered the industry, it still feels like we’re talking about the same things as we did in the 2010s. For me, it sometimes feels like publishing treats diversity and inclusion as something that is not needed but must be done so publishing doesn’t become #cancelled. Publishing needs to have a more empathetic approach to diversity and inclusion and really understand the benefit of hiring different people.
Thank you so much to Hope for taking the time to talk with us! Check out her socials here: