Because Diversity Is So…Diverse
If you’ve ever flown to New Delhi, you’ll have encountered one of the more peculiar time-zone anomalies in world travel: The mighty capital of India is not just 10 hours ahead of Eastern time, it’s 10 hours and 30 minutes ahead. Like Tehran, New Delhi has a half-hour time change atop the usual whole-zone adjustments.
And when I was in New Delhi this week for the International Publishers Association’s (IPA) biennial world congress, an interesting situation developed. As I wrote it up at Publishing Perspectives, the stage was busy with many publishing and intellectual property players, most of them rightly energized and newly sensitized by the political realities around us today.
In a nutshell:
- Copyright protection is being gravely threatened in many parts of the world; Canada, of all markets, is the reluctant poster child for “fair use” expansions in education that leave authors and publishers unpaid
- The freedom to publish, our industry’s evocation of free speech, is being brazenly challenged by the rise of autocratic and rightist movements in the States and elsewhere, as when Donald Trump challenges Macmillan for publishing Fire and Fury and China re-detains publisher Gui Minhai, winner of this year’s Prix Voltaire as a champion of such freedom
- And then there’s diversity, a concept that can be confused from person to person, organization to organization, moment to moment, let alone country to country.
As many as 70 national associations’ representatives were at the conference, which was designed as three days of intensive, relentless presentations, debates, and discussions around the key issues impacting the world industry. The event drew close to 400 people–with probably 400 views of what we mean when we say “diversity.”
In my congress-closing article, it fell to me to point out that the concept of gender diversity in publishing’s leadership had gotten away from the planners. We watched as waves of talented, intelligent men moved across the stage, but the organization fell short of its goal of gender parity in these presentations. Even some of the most prominent women publishers in India, well known to many of us in the international business, were oddly missing from programming. The local organizers had focused elsewhere and surely felt they were entertaining a fabulously diverse audience with as many as 60 nations’ delegates in place.
The international association has handled this criticism extremely well, without defensiveness. This is very much to the IPA’s credit, how constructive.
And what’s important to recognize, of course, is that an outfit like the IPA has the interesting dilemma of occasionally competing constituencies. In a congress cycle that’s hosted by a market like India still laboring with a major overhang of traditional male domination, the dynamic of the wider, multinational group can end up in conflict with the interests of the local hosting body.
The next IPA congress is set in Norway, and it’s logical to expect a very different reality there; the Nordic and Scandinavian publishing markets have long reflected their societies’ more even-handed gender relations.
Nevertheless, the experience in New Delhi–on the whole, an important congress and filled with collegial grace and collaboration in many other ways–brought to mind a couple of points that we as writers need to think about just as carefully as we’d ask conference planners or employers to do.