Where the world’s book women find inspiration, solidarity, and answers
PublisHer is where women in publishing can give and receive support, help each other advance, swap good ideas and devise strategies to bring them to life. It’s where book women find inspiration, solidarity, and answers.
In March 2019, Bodour Al Qasimi created PublisHer with the single-minded aim of building a worldwide community of female publishing professionals. The founder and CEO of Sharjah-based publishing house Kalimat Group has always said her idea was born of the glaring need for a solutions-driven response to the inequities that women in publishing live with.
Today, the community has evolved into a bonafide international movement, with thousands of supporters and participants—there’s no formal membership currently—on five continents.
Over time, the organization has professionalized, building a brand and hiring a small team to organize its busy events calendar, run marketing and communications, and facilitate the work of its Advisory Board, which was formed in 2020.
Action and interaction
Besides networking, another founding goal was to provide actionable solutions to real issues being reported by women at the sharp end of producing and selling books.
During 2020’s COVID-19 strictures, PublisHer rolled out a desktop mentoring scheme, arranging one-on-one Zoom sessions between 60 up-and-comers and 19 publishing doyennes from around the world. It also profiled inspiring entrepreneurs and leaders in journalist-led video interviews called #Unmasked, which can still be seen on the YouTube channel.
And on International Women’s Day (February 8, 2020), it launched a Diversity and Inclusion Diagnostic Toolkit to help publishing companies improve their D&I performance.
Face-to-face events at international book fairs, networking mixers, and public discussions remain a core strand of PublisHer’s mission to raise awareness of the challenges and offer female solace. There have been seminars, panel debates, and networking workshops in Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe, with many publishers clamouring to host local events. To meet this growing demand, PublisHer has created an online application process for would-be event owners.
PublisHer Excellence Award
At Sharjah International Book Fair, in November 2023, Bodour launched PublisHer’s new brand identity and the PublisHer Excellence Awards, in recognition of women who have made a positive difference to the publishing industry.
The awards are in three categories: the Lifetime Achievement Award, for a trailblazing publishing doyenne who has made a significant and lasting impact on the industry; the Emerging Leader Award, for a rising publishing star who has demonstrated exceptional leadership, big-picture thinking, and the power to drive positive change; and the Innovation Award, for any woman responsible for an innovative contribution to the publishing industry , such as storytelling and content curation, editorial leadership, management strategies, company culture, and marketing campaigns etc.
At the time, Bodour said, “We’ve reached a maturity as an organization where we’re ready to take things to a new level. Expect to see PublisHer more present, more visible, and more active throughout the international publishing industry calendar from now on.”
Nominations can be made via the PublisHer website (www.womeninpublishing.org) until 15 January 2024.
The Advisory Board
Advisory Board members sit for three-year terms, and in November 2023, Arpita Das (India), Latoya West Blackwood (Jamaica), and Emma House (UK) made way for Lisa Lyons Johnston (Canada), Sandra Tamele (Mozambique), and Beatrice Yong-in Lin (South Korea).
Joining Flavia Alves Bravin (Brazil); Lola Shoneyin (Nigeria/UK); Elena Pasoli, (Italy); and Rosadiyati Rozalina (Indonesia), their role is to represent and guide PublisHer, and to help shape its projects, initiatives, actions, and partnerships.
Commenting on the changeover, Bodour thanked Arpita, Latoya, and Emma, adding,“Lisa, Sandra, and Beatrice are outstanding, senior publishers whose diverse profiles will add huge value to our collective thinking and outlook. Their extensive entrepreneurial experience gained on three continents will be a great advantage as we set the strategic direction and respond to emerging challenges in the international industry.”
Beatrice Lin, shares, “I am delighted and honored to join as an advisory board member of PublisHer starting from 2024. The overwhelming emotions from the successful PublisHer conference in Seoul in 2023, where we introduced PublisHer to the Korean publishing industry, are rekindled. I am committed to promoting PublisHer’s key agendas of diversity, inclusivity, and gender equality in the publishing industry, understanding the local situations in each country. In addition, I expect to contribute further to PublisHer becoming a supportive organization where female publishers can more frequently and safely amplify their voices, guiding each other. Looking ahead three years, I anticipate PublisHer being even closer to the global publishers leading our publishing industry.”
While, Sandra Tamele, shares, “I’m honoured to have been invited to join PublisHer and this group of women I look up to as role models. I’m often labeled a trailblazer or the first from my region and background, and I see my joining the Board as giving me agency to work towards ensuring that I’m not either the only one nor the last.”
Lisa Lyons says, “I am delighted to be appointed to this important board, comprised of extraordinary women from around the globe, including PublisHer’s founder and visionary leader, Bodour Al Qasimi. PublisHer’s mission, aligns with my goals of advancing literacy and equity for girls and women.”
The message about the future is a consistent one: PublisHer has come far and achieved much, but there’s a lot more road ahead than behind.
To actuate true, lasting change takes time, but Bodour Al Qasimi and the community she has built will not be distracted from their goal of levelling the publishing playing field.
Some countries have made more progress than others, with women well represented across all skillsets and decision-making levels. But even there, women continue to experience injustices and disadvantages based on gender alone.
Until it can be sincerely proclaimed that building a career in publishing, anywhere in the world, is a purely meritocratic endeavour, there will still be a need for the awareness –raising, stand-making, mobilizing force that is PublisHer.
“This is a great time for women to start a career in publishing”
Says Bodour Al Qasimi, Founder of PublisHer and CEO of Kalimat Group in conversation with AABP.
AABP: In the rapidly evolving landscape of publishing, what opportunities do you see for women to not only enter the industry but also to thrive and make a significant impact?
Bodour: This is a great time for women to start a career in publishing. Organizations like PublisHer are keeping diversity and inclusion in the global conversation, and many industries — including publishing — are making strides toward greater meritocracy and gender equity.
But it was never the problem of getting a foot in the door; it’s what happens afterwards as women establish themselves and start to climb the ladder.
A simple but effective approach is to mobilize women and find the strength in numbers. I have found that women always make the greatest impact when they work together, help, guide, support and mentor each other and behave as a mutually reinforcing collective.
AABP: How can the industry address and overcome these obstacles to ensure a more inclusive and equitable environment?
Bodour: There’s an expression in Arabic that translates as ‘nothing can scratch your skin like your nails’, in this case meaning that women should take the lead to create the change and overcome the obstacles because we are the ones who have historically suffered from the inequality in the publishing industry. But I also believe that we need our male colleagues to be on our side to encourage more diversity. We need men’s proactive allyship because, frankly, change is coming and it’ll be smoother and more productive if everyone’s on board. When men realize that there is a problem from the women’s perspective and that empowering women is not the same as disempowering men, they will willingly step in and help women speak out.
It may sound obvious, but for inclusivity and equality to be properly implemented in an organization, leadership must make a conscious decision to create an inclusive and equitable workplace. Without this commitment, and without embedding meritocratic principles in policies and culture, negative behaviours such as sexism, harassment and bias are at risk of sprouting and spreading. It is not enough to pay a consultant to draft a DEI policy and email it to employees. Publishers who have successfully brought about lasting positive change have done so in every aspect of the business, from the way talent is recruited, retained and developed, to the setting of targets and salaries, to the content of the books they produce. Business leaders need to walk the talk and show that they are serious about changing the culture by acting decisively and leaving no doubt as to where the boundaries lie. It’s not about turning everyone into a rule follower, but about explaining the company’s values and expecting and enabling everyone to live them with integrity.
AABP: Share some personal highlights of your career that showcase the accomplishments and contributions of women in publishing, emphasizing the positive aspects of their roles?
Bodour: I am fortunate that there have been many highlights — such as the encouraging decision to become a publisher in the first place — but one that stands out for me was being elected President of the International Publishers Association in 2019. I was the second woman to hold this position and the first Arab woman in the 125-year history of the IPA. That I was elected to this position by IPA members worldwide says a lot about how the status quo has changed, and it was an exciting honour to be a symbol of that change. Furthermore, my election has opened a door, as I am succeeded by a woman, Karine Pansa, and she will also be succeeded by a woman, Gvantsa Jobava.
Another reason is the success of PublisHer, which I launched in 2019. There is so much appetite for a platform like ours, where women in publishing can meet like-minded people and find inspiration, solidarity and solutions. Building the PublisHer network has brought me into contact with so many amazing women who have stories to tell of triumphing over adversity by using their wits and resilience. I’ve learned more about female strength, leadership and strong business acumen than I ever thought possible. That’s why we launched the PublisHer Excellence Awards this year, because the talent pool is literally full of incredibly accomplished women who deserve to be revered and celebrated, and whose example needs to be shared.
AABP: As we look ahead to the future of publishing, how can we collectively work towards creating an even more diverse and innovative landscape?
Bodour: I believe in the innate power and limitless potential of women who just need to find the confidence to speak up to make a difference. The world is ready for more female voices in decision-making, be it in business, politics or any other area of society. We need balance, a range of perspectives, and decision-making should reflect the diversity of the world itself.
Women have driven a stake into the ground in publishing, and they are demanding the equal rights, respect and fair treatment they deserve. Progress has been made in some areas, and women are represented in all areas and at all levels of decision-making, and this must be celebrated.
But the job is not done until we can truly say that building a career in publishing, anywhere in the world, is an exclusively meritocratic endeavor that has nothing to do with whether you are a woman or a man. In the future, women will have to hold on to this idea, because even if they do not personally face discrimination or prejudice, there will be someone somewhere, and the threat of backsliding will never completely go away.