glass ceiling

Women in Publishing

In July 2018, the Association of Canadian Publishers released an overview report of the book publishing industry in Canada. The report, compiled by Nordicity, found that 70% of full-time employees (FTEs) in the industry were women. (Nordicity 2018). With this figure in view, this paper will explore the status of women in the publishing industry. Efforts have been made to focus on the Canadian publishing industry, however relevant information regarding the US and UK industries will also be considered. I will examine the wage gap and “glass ceiling” issue in the industry both historically and presently, and look forward to what the future may hold for women in publishing. I will close with a discussion of the 2018/19 Master of Publishing (MPub) cohort at Simon Fraser University.


Population and Workforce Demographics

In order to have a clear understanding of the significance of a workforce that is 70% female, it is necessary to contextualize these figures in a broader set of information. According to Statistics Canada women have historically comprised roughly 49.8% of the population. Furthermore in August 2018, women accounted for 51.1% of total labourers in the age 25+ Canadian workforce (Statistics Canada 2018).

While these comparatively low numbers highlight the significance of the publishing industry’s majority female workforce, it’s important to also recognize that the overrepresentation of women is not unique to publishing; women also over-index in the teaching profession (Satistics Canada 2015) and health sector (Porter and Borgeault 2017). In the overall Canadian workforce, women hold 65% of non-scientific positions requiring a university degree (Statistics Canada 2017).

Therefore, the gender divide in the publishing industry is significant compared to the overall workforce in Canada, but likely not unprecedented; which is just to say that an unequal gender divide happens across numerous industries, and rarely do industry demographics align with broader labour force or population demographics.


Twice as Many, Half as Powerful

A concerning characteristic of the publishing industry is that, despite the gross majority of the workforce being female, men still out-earn women in the industry by an average of $27,000; a Publishers Weekly (PW) 2018 salary survey found that the average salary for men was $87,000, while the average salary earned by a woman working in the industry was $60,000 (Milliot 2018). The wage gap persisted across all areas of the trade, even while the survey confirmed that the industry was largely composed of female employees[1]. In the editorial sector, for instance, 84% of positions were held by women, but men still out-earned women by $22,000. Furthermore, the PW survey found that only 59% of management positions were held by women (which according to PW was an encouraging increase from 49% in 2016). It’s significant to note that this survey was conducted in the United States, but studies in the UK reflect a similar reality: in the years 2000-2013, men working in publishing in the UK earned an average of 17.7% more than women (Kean 2017). Furthermore, In 2018, major UK publishing houses reported equally bleak, and even bleaker numbers: Penguin Random House admitted a 16.4% wage gap between female and male salaries, Bloomsbury 23.3%, and Hachette UK 29.7% (Marsden 2018). So, the same pattern seems to hold across the publishing industry globally.

This worrying pattern seems to be an age-old problem in the trade. In 1979[2], this disparity inspired the formation of activist group Women in Publishing (WiP). In the words of cofounder Jane Gregory, “there wasn’t a glass ceiling; there was a concrete one…and we felt that by banding together we’d have more clout” (Marsden 2018). Penny Mountain, who helped launch an oral history project dedicated to WiP, said in an interview with the Independent, “you couldn’t train [for a position in the industry]—men or women­— so the fact that men were getting the better jobs was even more bizarre. It wasn’t like they had better qualifications than us—they just talked the talk. And traditionally, women are very bad at telling themselves how good they are.” I will return to this comment on the industry’s power imbalance later in this paper when I discuss the gender makeup of the 2018/19 SFU MPub cohort.

A decade after WiP first gathered, their 1989 report titled, “Twice as Many, Half as Powerful” found that there were double the amount of women compared to men working in the industry, but scant few at the executive level; a follow-up study in 1995 found that there were almost nine time as many men at the executive level as there were women[3], as well as a 24% wage gap. In view of recent statistics, two facts are proven: that for decades the publishing workforce has been mostly women, and that for even longer, there has been a substantial wage gap in the industry.


Looking Forward

On July 1, 2018, Kristin Cochrane became the new CEO of Penguin Random House—arguably the most powerful publishing conglomerate in the trade book industry. This is a significant appointment and bodes well for women in the industry. Penny Mountain, in regards to the formation of WiP explained to the Independent that one of the barriers facing women moving up in the industry was that people tended to promote “in their own image”; so, an executive board being comprised of mostly men would be self-sustaining. In this sense, having a woman running such a powerful publishing body is potentially a hopeful sign of things to come[4].

While the overall trend in the publishing industry is towards corporate consolidation, which tends not to work in women’s favour (Kean 2017), there appears to be an uprising of women starting their own independent publishing houses. Indeed, according to PW, more and more women are leaving corporate publishing due to the persistent wage gap and glass ceiling, and striking out on their own. Time will tell how successful these ventures are, but it’s hopeful that women are responding to the issue by carving out their own space in the industry, as opposed to continuing to labour in unsatisfactory circumstances.

Furthermore, regarding the future of publishing, I want to close with a discussion of the 2018/19 MPub cohort at Simon Fraser University. In a 2018 paper exploring the gender makeup of the cohort (100% female), my colleague Melody Sun inferred from the fact that men weren’t present in the 2018/19 MPub cohort that men were not interested in entering the industry (Sun 2018). Respectfully, I disagree with Melody’s central argument that men are not interested in entering the industry. I would argue instead that the reason the MPub cohort is entirely women relates back to what Penny Mountain said about us as women being traditionally bad at telling ourselves how good we are. Anecdotally, the publishing industry is an experienced-based trade. The business has existed and thrived long before programs such as the SFU MPub were established to formally prepare people to work in the industry; historically, a person often came to publishing via a circuitous route that originated in a different, but related industry, and rose through the ranks in a learn-as-you-go fashion. In this sort of situation, a person advances by taking on jobs they aren’t necessarily “qualified” for, because the only way to become qualified is to do the job. I would argue that, given our patriarchal society, a pervasive historical culture of wage gaps (both inside and outside of the publishing industry) and glass ceilings, and given so many other iterations of institutionalized sexism, women are less likely to pursue positions they do not feel qualified for. In other words, women are more likely to doubt themselves. In a panel discussion[5] on “Women in Leadership” in Leanne Johnson’s PUB 600 class, I asked the guests about maintaining confidence in this sort of learn-as-you-go culture. They admitted it was a reality of the industry, and AnneMarie joked that the ideal is to “proceed with the confidence of a mediocre white man.” So, in response to Melody’s paper, I would respectfully argue that the 2018/19 MPub cohort is comprised entirely of women because we, more than our male counterparts, feel a need to make sure we are qualified to enter this industry before actually entering it. I would venture that we have male peers entering the publishing industry while we move through this program, learning as they go.

When I look at my MPub cohort community, I see a group of incredibly intelligent, talented, and dedicated women. This impression has only been magnified by the recent completion of our Fall 2018 Book Project. I see a group of women from a number of different backgrounds, with diverse skill sets and knowledge bases. I see a group of women that will each bring something unique but equally exceptional to the industry. I see a group of women that, despite all of these things, will continue to face gendered barriers to advancing in this industry, and who may have to come up with brave and creative solutions to overcome these barriers. While the success of some women, such as Kristin Cochrane, offers some hope for women in corporate publishing, it may be the fact that the best way for women to seize power in the industry is through staring their own publishing ventures. In the words of Dominque Raccah, founder of Starbooks[6], “I think that successful female entrepreneurs working together is going to be more and more of a trend as we go forward. We have to help each other to succeed.”

Reference List


Gross, Anisse. 2017. “Women Rule in Indie Publishing.” Publishers Weekly,

April 28, 2017.


Kean, Danuta. 2017. “Are things getting worse for women in publishing?” The Guardian, May

11, 2017.


Marsden, Harriet. 2018. “A gentleman’s profession? The women fighting for gender equality in

publishing.” Independent, April 6, 2018.


Milliot, Jim. 2018. “The PW Publishing Industry Salary Survey, 2018.” Publishers Weekly,

November 9, 2018.


Nordicity, 2018. “Canadian Book Publishing Industry Profile: Final Report.” Association of

Canadian Publishers, July 2018.


Porter, Andrea, and Dr. Ivy Bourgeault. 2017. “Gender, workforce and health system change in

Canada.” Canadian Institute for Health Information, November 2017.


Statistics Canada. 2018. “Table 1: Labour force characteristics by age group and sex, seasonally

adjusted.” Government of Canada, September 7, 2018.


Statistics Canada. 2017. “International Women’s Day… by the numbers.” Government of

Canada, March 6, 2017.


Statistics Canada. 2015. “Table 1: Population by sex, Canada, 1921-2061.” Government of

Canada, November 30, 2015.

——. “Table 13: Women in teaching-related professions, Canada, 1996 and

2006.” Government of Canada, November 30, 2015.


Sun, Melody. 2018. “A Closer Look at the Gender Ratio of the Master of Publishing Program.”

PUB 800.


[1] In fact, the PW survey findings (which reflect the US publishing industry) presented an 80-20 female-male split in the industry.

[2] But wait a minute, you might be thinking—1979, that would be right on the heels of the second-wave feminist movement—and isn’t the wage gap issue true across all industries? Aren’t women everywhere disenfranchised to some extent? Isn’t this what people are talking about when they talk about the patriarchy? Yes. But. The difference—why it is so significant in our industry—is that women are the overwhelming majority in the industry, yet we wield an overwhelmingly, disproportionately small amount of the power.

[3] 112 men to 13 women.

[4] Meanwhile, HarperCollins Canada, Simon & Schuster, Pearson, Hachette, and Nelson all have men in their CEO positions. Annette Thomas has been CEO of Macmillan Publishers since 2007.

[5] Panel consisted of of Anicka Quin, AnneMarie MacKinnon, and Tania Lo.

[6] “One of the largest woman-owned independent publishers in North America” (Gross 2017)