SHE LIT: In Female-Dominated Publishing Industry, Pay Gaps Persist

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HarperCollins employees say diversity and inclusion is not prioritized at publisher

Unionized employees of HarperCollins Publishers voted to strike earlier this week, citing concerns with low pay as a result of the book industry leader not promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion the way it promised.

Returning from the three-day July 4 holiday weekend, the Local 2110 of the UAW union said its 250+ members voted to authorize a strike as it negotiates a “fair contract” with the publisher.

Members include employees in editorial, sales, publicity, design, legal, and marketing departments. They say they want higher pay, better family leave benefits, stronger union protection, and a real commitment to staff diversity and inclusion.

The average female employee at HarperCollins earns an annual $55,000 with a starting salary of $45,000, according to the union’s press release announcing the potential strike. That doesn’t cover the cost of living in New York City, the release notes.

“Our compensation doesn’t reflect our education and skills, or our contributions to the financial success of the company,” said union chairperson Laura Harshberger, a senior production editor in children’s books, in the release.

Not only is the gender pay gap in the spotlight with this news, but so is the racial pay gap with the union saying the lack of racial and ethnic diversity at HarperCollins has contributed to the “historically low wages.” The publisher had “record profits” in 2021, parent company News Corp. mentions in a press release last August.

The union says HarperCollins is the only major book publisher in the U.S. to be unionized. The contract negotiations with HarperCollins management have been ongoing since December 2021.

The publishing industry is about 74% cisgender women and 23% cisgender men, according to a survey released in 2020 by Lee & Low Books, a family-run, minority-owned, independent publisher.

Women may dominate the industry, but men tend to better rise in the ranks with 38% of cisgender men holding executive and board member positions.

For the race and ethnicity breakdown, the industry is 76% White. “The field is overwhelmingly White women,” the survey says.

No date has been set for the strike since negotiations are still not done. Whether they strike or not, the publishing industry as a whole has a long way to go with closing the gender and racial pay gap. If a strike happens, we may see more major publishers dealing with employees wanting to unionize in an effort to not only raise wages but to diversify the industry.

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