Poll by the Bookseller finds 54% of female respondents reporting sexual ‘harassment, assault or predatory behaviour’
A survey suggests that more than half of people working in the books industry have experienced sexual harassment, with 54% of women and 34% of men reporting “harassment, assault or predatory behaviour”.
Incidents reported ran the gamut from demeaning language through to unwanted physical contact and assault. Two respondents said they had been raped.
Many of those surveyed reported incidents where younger, more junior colleagues were harassed by men in more senior roles. Sixty-six percent of publicists, who often work closely with authors outside the office while on promotional tours, reported harassment, with 61% of booksellers reporting abusive behaviour from customers, colleagues or visiting authors.
One bookseller said that she felt powerless after an incident at a book event. “At a launch party, a drunk senior manager groped my breasts,” she said. “It was deeply upsetting and humiliating.”
According to one publicist, difficulties can arise because “you’re staying in hotels with [writers] around the country, often as the only representative of your company. No one is there at the time to protect you and often they are such big-name authors that you wouldn’t dare tell anyone.”
Only 29.4% of people who had experienced sexual harassment said they had reported it, with 56.9% fearing that the situation would have had an effect on their professional prospects.
One editor recalled being “groped at an office party by a very senior male colleague who was quite drunk” while working in an entry-level position. “I completely froze … I never mentioned it to anyone, I didn’t think it was worth it because he was in control of my career.”
According to the deputy editor of the Bookseller, Benedicte Page, while the results are sobering, the self-selecting nature of the survey needs to be taken into account.
“Personally, I’d be much more likely to respond to a survey where I had something important I wanted to say,” Page said. “So it doesn’t necessarily mean that 51% of people in the industry have been harassed … If you bear that in mind, no, I don’t think the results are so very surprising. We’re becoming aware that it’s a widespread issue.”
While most people in the books trade are very positive about their work, with a women-dominated workforce in the books industry making it “a very comfortable environment for women staff”, she continued, the survey suggests that the “fun, social” nature of an industry “with a lot of evening events, and some alcohol flowing, may cause some problems we should be thinking about. People working in publicity and in bookselling were particularly likely to say they had been harassed, so there may be some issues for those roles in particular that need looking at.”
Page hopes that the survey will open a discussion about how the industry can change.
“We understand that all of the major publishers have policies in place that appear to be good and robust,” she said. “What was also clear was that despite this, many staff felt unable to report incidents, and perhaps a restating of procedures may be useful. An industry-wide code of conduct covering all sectors, including authors, has been called for, and it may be that the trade associations – the Publishers Association, Booksellers Association, Society of Authors, and the Association of Authors’ Agents – need to get together and discuss that.”
The survey echoes results in UK workplaces as a whole, where research published by the Trades Union Congress and the Everyday Sexism Project in 2016 suggested that 52% of women experienced unwanted behaviour.
Penguin Random House (PRH) declined to comment directly on the Bookseller’s results, pointing to policies and procedures for dealing with harassment already in place within the company.
“We are committed to equal opportunities and encourage a respectful and diverse workplace in which each individual’s unique value is recognised and each person is treated with courtesy, honesty and dignity,” said PRH’s director of human resources, Val Garside. “We do not tolerate discrimination, harassment, bullying or intimidation of any kind.”
Novelist Joanne Harris said the survey left her “sad, but not remotely surprised” in a sector where men still take the lion’s share of senior roles.
“Any male-dominated industry is going to have its abusers,” she said. “I’m glad this is coming out now – maybe this means that we’ll finally see some rectification of the uneven balance of power between men and women in the creative industries.”
Source: The Guardian