Gender Inequality in Publishing: Women Marginalized, While Men Take the Lead

The 9th Annual Ethics & Publishing Conference at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. centered on sexism and gender inequality in publishing, and the importance of understanding the impact of gender bias in both conscious and unconscious forms. A pronounced example of unconscious sexism/gender bias emerged in the process of putting the conference, itself, together— which had been comprised of an all-White panel of male speakers.

In the opening introduction, a faculty member at GWU (and international publishing consultant) said that in putting the panel together, he and his team completely overlooked the fact that women were absent from their chosen list of speakers. He decided to leverage this blunder as an opportunity to highlight the inherent sexism in the industry. The speakers at the 2016 conference, now all women (none were women of color), discussed the publishing world’s predominantly White and female make up, but emphasized that when it comes to leadership roles, men generally hold positions of authority.

According to the Publisher’s Weekly Publishing Industry Salary Survey, 2016, “72% of men reported that they earned $70,000 or more compared to only 41% of women,” largely due to management positions; generally the highest paying roles in publishing, being held primarily by men.

The female presence in publishing is concentrated in lower paying roles—84 percent of women in publishing work in editorial and 73 percent in sales and marketing. According to the same survey, 88 percent of women in the publishing industry are White, with only 2 percent of workers identifying as African American, 4 percent as Asian American or mixed race, and 4 percent as Hispanic. Past surveys have shown, such as the 2014 salary survey published in PW highlighting a $15,000 wage gap between the sexes, that men still dominate leadership in this field.

It’s important to note that sexism also exerts an influence on writers. For instance, Tramp Press, an Irish publisher, asked a group of writers to reveal which authors and literary influences were present in their work— only 22 percent listed female writers. Women of color and LGBTQ professionals have even more challenges in navigating the publishing industry. In “The Most Intersectional VIDA Count Yet Paints a Troubling Picture: Looking Beyond Gender Inequity in Literary Media Makes for a Disturbing View,” published in The Huffington Post, author Claire Fallon wrote, “Women from marginalized groups continue to be wildly underrepresented in most major literary publications.” Fallon’s article was written in response to a 2015 VIDA count that revealed rampant sexism and racism in the publishing world.

However, progress is still being made, as highlights from the count indicate:

Of the 26 publications in our 2015 Larger Literary Landscape VIDA Count, 15 of them published as many bylines by women writers as men, or more! We are celebrating A Public Space (72%), The Normal School (69%), Crab Orchard Review (64%), Jubilat (59%), Ninth Letter (59%), Cincinnati Review (58%), N+1 (57%), Conjunctions (56%), Gettysburg Review (55%), Kenyon Review (55%), Prairie Schooner (54%), Colorado Review (53%), Missouri Review (52%), Pleiades (50%), and Harvard Review (50%).



In 2015, nine publications are closing in on gender parity, with bylines by women writers representing 40 to 49 percent of the pie: Copper Nickel (49%), Callaloo (48%), Fence (48%), The Believer (47%), New American Writing (46%), McSweeney’s (45%), Virginia Quarterly Review (45%), AGNI (43%), and Southwest Review (40%).

Source: Excerpt from 2015 VIDA count, listed on

Written by Rebecca Nichloson

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