Latina Pushes for More Diversity in the Publishing World
When children find themselves relating to the characters in a story, they are more likely to value their existence in society. Like the characters they love, they tend to believe they can be somebody in their own life stories. That is why it is important that the diversity of readership is met by a diversity in the publishing world. Books need to have a variety when it comes to cultural and social perspectives.
The recent statistical data released by Publishers Weekly concerning the racial and ethnic makeup of the publishing world shows that only three percent of employees in publishing houses are Latino, a miniscule fragment compared to the 84 percent of employees coming from the white race.
This reality reflects the underrepresentation of diverse characters in books, especially children's literature which is further confirmed by the Cooperative Children's Book Center's report that out of 3,134 texts they had published and reviewed in 2018, only five percent or 120 books have Latino characters.
With the absence of publishing companies dedicated to support migrant and other non-white authors, Latinos often feel discouraged to self-publish due to its exhausting and usually expensive journey. Another major challenge they usually encounter is the actual title of "diversity books" as well as the underlying mindset that they can only be enjoyed by Latino readers when in fact, all children can benefit from reading about different perspectives and cultures as it broadens their worldview.
To address this long-standing issue, in 2017, Penguin Random House (PRH), one of the biggest publishing companies in the country, has come up with a new division called Diversity and Inclusion. Annysa Polanco, an advocate for equitable access and undoing oppressive systems, did not let the opportunity pass. She was hired as the division's Associate Director who will focus on organizational diversity.
In an interview with Remezcla, Polanco shares how she utilizes a systems approach to change the culture of PHR which will hopefully increase diversity in books.
Growing up in a low-socioeconomic immigrant household, she had spent her entire life navigating systems without knowing the rules, the right language and the resources. With her position, she gets to help people be their authentic selves and realize their greatest passion, a role which she learned to do best and love most.
She said diversifying the industry must tackled from every angle. Also, there needs to have a lot of cultural shifts before a real change in the number of people of color in staff positions of publishing companies.
"Coming in with a lens specifically on employees and company culture, I am approaching this work from the inside out," said Polanco, adding that aside from hearing the experiences of the underrepresented and marginalized employees, she will also try to understand the organizational behavior and the systems that are in place.
This way she could determine what specific actions to take in order to integrate diversity in the workforce should be and to change the current culture.
One of her initiatives was launching the employee resource groups (ERGs) which serve as organized platforms that employees can utilize to promote change. This led to the establishment of the POC@PRH group in February dedicated to employees who self-identify as a member of a racially or ethnically underrepresented group and the Accessibility & Wellness group to support and enrich employees who are personally connected to the subject of visible and invisible disabilities.
According to Polanco, when driven by employees themselves and integrated into the business, ERGs will be able to make concrete changes to workplace policies, structures, company brands and even the ways internal and external talent is managed-provided that they are equipped with the right financial and development resources.
When asked on her advice to Latinos who want to embark on their self-publishing journey, she said they should begin by tapping into as many industry resources and newsletters as possible: Latinx in Publishing, Minorities in Publishing podcast and POC in Publishing, to name a few. When networking, be very specific about how their skills could be transferable. She added, it is important to show recruiters that they are the best person for a particular role, and finally, lean into their own culture. This way, they could increase diversity in publishing.
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