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Entering the Industry: BIPOC Barriers to Entry

How many of us have had to, upon answering the question about what you do for a living, immediately followed that with explaining that we are not “those type of publishers”...

Published onSep 12, 2022
Entering the Industry: BIPOC Barriers to Entry
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How many of us have had to, upon answering the question about what you do for a living, immediately followed that with explaining that we are not “those type of publishers”, i.e., we don’t write or edit content as in trade publishing but we are publishing managers/business managers/partnership managers/account managers—we shape and manage the product. The scholarly communications community has not done a great job of marketing itself or making itself accessible to the BIPOC community. Many undergraduate students have the opportunity and privilege to learn about scientific publishing by taking well known summer courses/programs offered by expensive universities. While these jobseekers lack direct experience, their participation in these courses bolster their résumé and make them attractive hires. Their BIPOC peers, who may not have accessibility/affordability to take such a course, miss out as they can’t gain the introductory knowledge about the industry to explore their potential interest and strengthen their résumé.

Low Salaries 

Most of the scholarly publishers are based in cities with prohibitively high cost of living such as New York City, Boston, London, Cambridge, etc. Expensive cities are challenging to live in for any early career professional, but especially challenging for those looking to enter academic publishing given the low starting salaries. Therefore, it is not a surprise that this may not be the first profession of choice for many, but especially for those from the BIPOC community. For many, the first exposure to the industry is through a summer internship program offered by several of the publishers for a small stipend. Very often these lead to being recruited by the publishers for a full-time position upon graduation. Given that thus far these programs have required in-person participation, this poses a challenge to attract diverse candidates, including BIPOC, who would see the internship as an opportunity to learn about the industry.  In-person participation in expensive cities poses a barrier for students who reside outside the areas where the major publishers are located. Many of the graduates may be first generation, but with student loan debt. For these graduates, entering a profession with such a low starting salary and  locations in expensive cities, the option may look unfeasible. With the workforce culture now shifting from primarily on location to hybrid or even primarily remote. We are hopeful to see more opportunities opening up for publishers to recruit candidates outside of their office areas, enabling them to improve the diversity of their workforce. 

 Marginal BIPOC Representation

The challenge above is further exacerbated by the fact that the industry has dismally low BIPOC representation, particularly in positions of leadership. If, despite all the roadblocks  above, a BIPOC early career entrant chooses to consider entering scholarly publishing they will find that there are very few to no BIPOC members in most of the publisher’s c-suite and several levels down. Further, upon joining the publisher, a publishing professional seeks leaders they can emulate and who inspire. As a BIPOC woman raising a family, I sought female leaders who not only embodied qualities of excellence, leadership, and drive, but also managed to balance her career with raising a family. Turns out these are not as common as one might think. And finding a BIPOC woman in this industry with these characteristics is like finding a unicorn. As a BIPOC professional in the industry, I had no BIPOC role models to emulate, and I found it disheartening that the few women in leadership were those without caregiver duties. 

In order for more professionals from the BIPOC community to enter the scholarly publishing industry, stay, and thrive, we need more role models, mentors, and leaders that understand our needs, demonstrate an appreciation for how our different cultural backgrounds can impact our ability to succeed and develop in a professional environment. We need leaders who can understand BIPOC professional needs, demonstrate an appreciation for cultural differences, and are advocates for BIPOC professional advancement. And we need to recognize that allies do not get to declare themselves, they are chosen, by us.

Limited Mentors 

Mentorship provides an opportunity for people to share knowledge, gain insight and offer practical career advice to each other. It is often the birthplace for networking and relationship building within an industry that leads to job opportunities and other career advancements. The mentor and mentee relationship offers a safe space to discuss not just career growth, but also practical advice to help navigate and overcome industry challenges. Given the limited number of people who have leadership roles within our industry from the BIPOC community, mentorship offers the ideal roadmap to help. However, BIPOC mentors can find themselves suffering from “cultural taxation.” This is the particular forms of labor and burnout that come (without compensation) from being the representative, either officially or unofficially, on diversity and equity committees or task forces. As mentors, it is also important to think about intent. Are we mentoring in ways that encourage assimilation into our workspaces without much context for the specific experiences of the mentee?

Assimilation via Cultural Hierarchies

“Culture” is a term that often makes its way into conversations regarding the BIPOC community by way of inclusivity and diversity. On the surface culture designates something about a specific group, including art, music and other refinements of haute culture. Overall, we tend to associate culture with customs and accumulated practices. However, when you begin to dig a bit deeper, culture also refers to the conventional beliefs and practices within a society. And as with the introduction of customary standards that work to benefit one group, comes the introduction of disadvantages to another group. And in that way, culture becomes a “cloak for privilege and inequity.” Sigh. If it is not enough that members of the BIPOC community have to constantly navigate a multitude of intersectional identities, we also have to navigate cultural hierarchies. This includes navigating a subset of cultural hierarchies that can limit the success of BIPOC employees. Organizations are working to address DEI which both directly and indirectly impacts the BIPOC community, but they must also be simultaneously working to address workplace culture. “You can’t address DEI without addressing the culture because it influences every aspect of how a company operates. It’s what sets or erodes the conditions for diversity to succeed,” as stated in the Antiracism Toolkit for Organizations.  

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