Duke and UNC Press Staff Collaborate on Building Equitable and Inclusive Workplace Communities


The theme of today’s University Press Week blog tour is spotlighting the work of university press staff. We offer a guest post by Assistant Director for Contracts and Intellectual Property Cathy Rimer-Surles and Editor Gisela Fosado on the recent work they’ve been doing UNC Press to build a more equitable and inclusive workplace. 

As we highlight the enormous contribution of university presses toward publishing books and journals featuring a rich range of multicultural voices, staff at Duke and UNC Presses are also acknowledging the entrenched problem of an all-too-homogenous workforce in the publishing industry as a whole. The 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey, conducted by Lee and Low Books, represents the first major study to look at diversity among publishing industry staff.  This survey indicated that 79% of employees in the publishing industry identified as White, while only 21% of employees combined identified as Black, Native American, Asian-American, Hispanic/Latino or Multiracial.  When looking at job functions within publishing such as those in Editorial, Sales/Marketing or Executive groups, the disparities become even more striking. Earlier this year both Duke and UNC Presses launched equity working groups in order to attempt to address the lack of diversity within our own presses.


In conversations around diversity in the workplace, employers sometimes ask themselves why there are so few people of color within their workforce.  As part of our discussions around diversity, equity and inclusion, however, a growing number of staff members are starting to ask themselves different questions, such as why it is that the vast majority of employees and especially administrators at their respective presses are White.  In other words, what publishing opportunities did White employees have that were not open to members of underrepresented groups?

Through engaging in regular discussion and self-assessment, equity working group members at both presses are starting to identify some common themes around hiring and recruitment.  For example, where the vast majority of staff members in a workplace identify as White, when they reach out to their informal networks as part of the organization’s recruitment process, they are most likely to reach out to people similar to themselves.  As an alternate approach, the groups are partnering with their respective HR teams to implement strategies for casting a wider net for potential job applicants including consistently posting at a wider range of area universities, having a visible presence at diversity job fairs, and forming a speaker’s bureau to talk with diverse audiences about scholarly publishing as a career.

Duke and UNC’s equity groups have also focused on examining the culture of their respective presses.  In a recent joint panel discussion featuring staff from both presses and Duke University’s Office for Institutional Equity, panelists highlighted the need to examine and transform the workplace culture. For example, becoming more aware of the role of implicit bias not just in recruitment and hiring decisions, but also in everyday personal interactions, including awareness of who is developed professionally through mentorship or through other opportunities that arise in the workplace. Panelists of color highlighted the negative impact of micro-aggressions and subtle bias on their self-esteem and job satisfaction, an experience shared by staff members from other marginalized groups including members of the LGBTQI community and people with disabilities.  Panelists of color also discussed their sense that there was an expectation to assimilate in order to truly “fit in.”

In seeking to address these concerns in depth, Duke University Press’s equity group has organized a series of workshops designed not only to raise awareness about the experiences of marginalized groups, but also about the critical role of the dominant, but often “invisible” culture.  After a kick-off workshop on Implicit Bias, staff will have the opportunity to participate in workshops led by Duke’s Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity and Disability Management Office.

Although these initiatives are only the first building blocks in constructing a more equitable and inclusive workplace, we are excited to be having these conversations and are eager to share our experiences with other interested presses.


Continue on the University Press Week blog tour with Seminary Co-op Bookstore featuring a bibliography of former Triliteral sales rep, John Eklund’s favorite books throughout his career with Harvard, Yale and MIT. Head to Wayne State University Press for the WSUP Shelf Talkers series—this time highlighting WSUP’s new in-house designer. University of Washington Press features Mellon University Press Diversity Fellow Niccole Leilanionapae’aina Coggins. University Press of Mississippi draws attention to staff members’ work outside of the Press and in the community. The University of Wisconsin Press shares The Art & Craft of Print: a feature on multi-talented books production manager Terry Emmrich, who is also a fine art printmaker. Johns Hopkins University Press spotlights Debby Bors, who—-after nine years in manuscript editing at JHU Press—explains her passion for university press publishing.




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