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Women in publishing share their stories and visions for a more inclusive industry
With International Women’s Day falling on March 8th this year, overlapping with BCBF 2023, what better way to celebrate than with a series of panels centred around women in the publishing industry? Hosted by PublisHer, visitors to this year’s Fair enjoyed three panels that opened the dialogue about equality in the publishing sector. PublisHer is “a global call to action” with a mission of addressing the gender imbalance in the publishing industry and pushing for change on an international level. A key aspect of this is increasing the number of women in leadership roles as, while many women are working in the publishing industry, especially in children’s publishing, executive positions are still dominated by men.
Throughout the conference, women from all around the world shared their experiences, as well as messages of empowerment. While there is much progress to be made on a global scale, there have been vast improvements in recent years. In fact, for the first time, the International Publishers Association recently elected its third female president since its founding in 1896. As Monica Martinelli pointed out, while large companies are overwhelmingly run by men, this has led many women to found their own companies in reaction, including many of the panelists. Lina Chebaro further noted an increase in women interested in working in publishing in the UAE.
While the glass ceiling is very real, the speakers at the PublisHer Conference shared their stories of strength and breaking through, inspiring those in the audience. For Chebaro, who dreamed of working in copyright, she refused to stay in her father’s shadow and decided to earn a Master’s degree in publishing. Today, she is the Rights Director for Arab Scientific Publishers. Maria Amélia Jannarelli, working as a lawyer, turned to blogging about children’s books to share her passion. After seeing women struggle every day as a result of Brazilian law, she decided to start her own business, Amelì, to promote equality through access to culture, education, and literature. Tuula Père similarly used her background as a lawyer and passion for storytelling to found her own publishing house, Wickwick, where she publishes titles “for children of the world” that promote equality and tackle complex subject matter in an entertaining way.
Throughout the conference, the speakers also shared advice and their own visions for creating a more equal industry. In the words of Martinelli, “Publishing reflects society.” These issues of gender inequality also connect to the ways women are depicted in pop culture and literary works–often as caring multitaskers who take on their various roles with a smile, as Martinelli described. For PublisHer founder Bodour Al Qasimi, changing the narrative at its source and promoting bibliodiversity is essential for a more equitable industry, especially given that children’s media, consumed during a child’s formative years, has a great impact on the ways a child views the world. From an educational point of view, the books chosen for curriculums are also key in children’s formative years. With more government input, the selections are often more traditional and outdated. Beatrice Masini suggests that teachers selecting books for their curriculum themselves can be an effective way to promote better representation for women.
Within the industry itself, the speakers also pointed to some initiatives to better include women. Chebaro proposed implementing more training sessions and mentorship opportunities to support women in the industry, as well as prioritizing books about women role models and voices from local women. Uplifting other women is crucial for creating change, which is a key value for Al Qasimi and PublisHer. In her words, “Women are and should be the best supporters of other women in our industry.”
For those who have been empowered by the panelists’ stories and are curious about creating change, Père offers a word of advice: “Always carry your heart with you. With your heart you can make a difference.”