Gender Equations in Publishing

A peek into the Roundtable at Jaipur Book Mark, the professional sessions organised by the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, by Arpita Das, Co-founder of Yoda Press.

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The Gender Equations in Publishing roundtable at JBM was led by eminent feminist publisher and Head of Zubaan Publishing, Urvashi Butalia, senior publisher and Head of Seagull Publishing, Naveen Kishore, and Head of Manan Publishing, Manisha Chaudhry. The roundtable opened with comments from Urvashi Butalia as she outlined what had led to the JBM organisers’ decision to have this roundtable and what she felt were the key issues the roundtable hoped to deal with. She flagged the important point that while the idea of the workplace has changed so much in recent years, for instance, freelance editors and designers working off their laptops in varying locations, shouldn’t workplace harassment take on board online trolling as well. She also pointed out that while it is true that women inhabit editorial departments in the industry in a prominent manner, and also that CEOs of big multinationals are mostly men, many reputed independent publishing houses are led by women who are enormously vocal in the industry, and perhaps therefore the idea of the ‘glass ceiling’ needs to be rethought.

Naveen Kishore remarked how for many years one has instinctively, intuitively followed a sense of decorum in one’s offices, much before gender in the workplace became a matter for discussion. However, it is clear that much more nuance is needed before a truly gender-sensitised workspace landscape can emerge in our industry.

In her opening remarks Manisha Chaudhry wondered why marketing and sales have always seemed like such a male bastion. She also flagged the important issue that has come up in many discussions post the second wave of #MeToo in India, i.e., how one could work out what to do if one’s author were named for sexual harassment.

Prashasti Rastogi at this point reminded us all about a wishlist that had emerged out of a Women in Publishing meeting at MMB a few months ago, which was also when the suggestion to have this roundtable was first mooted. An important item on the wishlist was a support group for women in publishing. Following this, Anupriya Rathore, a Hindi publisher from Udaipur made an interesting point about how she would like to be called the gender-neutral Prakashak and not Prakashika (a word that does not even exist in the Hindi lexicon). Marie Desmures from ActesSud in France responded by saying that although in the French language they do have the word Editrice for women editors, as opposed to Editeur for male editors, she found it odd when many women editors have more recently chosen to opt for Editeur and not Editrice.

Manasi Subramaniam from Penguin-Random House asked the important question which was uppermost in all our minds, ‘Do you separate the art from the artist?’

Turning to talking more about the professional ecosystem and how women experience it, Marie Desmeures spoke about how in France the book space is controlled by women. 72% of people working in publishing houses in France are women. All the same, their wages are lower than men’s wages in the industry. And of course, the top CEO-level jobs even there are mostly held by men. At this point, Maggie Doyle from the French publishing house Editions Robert Laffont added that more recently some CEO positions in French publishing houses have in fact begun to be occupied by women. Marie spoke about how there are only 25% women authors writing French novels, how there are many more men on award juries, and many more awards are going to male authors EVEN though 70% of the readers are, unsurprisingly, women.

Meera Johri of Rajpal & Sons, a Hindi-language publishing house which dates back to over 100 years, pointed out that in their house, editorial and production are entirely women-dominated. At this point, Ravi DC too spoke about key positions in sales in DC Books being held by women. However, he added that since women are conditioned at home itself to stay away from certain kinds of tasks, he wondered if that acted as something of a deterrent when it came to women performing to an optimum in sections like sales, marketing and production. Taking the discussion on the workspace further, Ravi Singh from Speaking Tiger said that big and small houses have different experiences when it comes to Production. He also added that since we are speaking about authors who have been named or accused, what about all the content that is regressive, which is being published anyway; why is that being published?

His colleague from Speaking Tiger, Renuka Chatterjee talked about how she has never faced any gender discrimination in Publishing throughout her career although she has only had male bosses; she also said that on thinking again she does feel that sales and marketing have always been cordoned off for women.

Arpita Das from Yoda Press responded to Ravi Singh’s point by saying that dealing with printers and presses late at night is a common phenomenon for publishers in smaller/independent publishing houses just as it is for larger or multinational ones, and many women handle this work across the board, and they do have a tough time. Also, women publishers, whether privileged or not, face similar issues. She also asked the more senior members of the industry at the roundtable to introspect on how they in their careers might have dealt with young women coming in with complaints about misconduct or harassment in the past. She added that it would be interesting to go around the table to see how many offices with 10 employees or more actually have instituted the Internal Complaints Committee as instituted by the law of the land.

Arpita Das runs the award-winning New Delhi based independent publishing house, Yoda Press. She is Course Leader at the Tejeshwar Singh College of Publishing, which she co-founded in collaboration with Sage Publishing. For the last four years, Das has curated the Book Award and the Word to Screen Market at the Mumbai Film Festival. Finalist for Bookseller’s Futurebook Leader of the Year Award in 2017, she also writes for various publications and platforms on book culture, publishing, popular culture and gender

Sunandini Banerjee from Seagull Publishing was asked to talk about her experience handling Production at this point and she said that while she was initially intimidated about handling such a male bastion, she went on to learn a lot from the men there, and added that anyone working in Production just has to hammer away at getting the job done, and that there is always much to learn.

Shweta Khurana from All About Book Publishing reminded us all at this point about the important question which still remains unanswered, i.e., who does one go to when in trouble. She also stressed on the importance of a support group. Moving on to talk of authors, Vaishali Mathur of PRH share her challenges in dealing with authors on the Hindi language scene.

Urvashi asked at this point if there was even a possibility for the management in publishing houses to be sensitive to new entrants and talk to them about gender issues, or some way of letting them know of the organisation’s policy related to gender equations.

It was agreed upon unanimously at the end that discussions such as these, workshops and regular meetings need to keep happening so that younger members of the industry feel free to talk about the challenges they face.

The session also included a book launch of Nitasha Devasar’s ‘Publishers on Publishing’, published by All About Book Publishing. The launch was carried out by the publisher Shweta Khurana.

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