Tom Weldon, CEO, Penguin Random House UK

Tom Weldon, CEO, Penguin Random House UK

Below is a message that I shared earlier on Monday (8 June) with all my colleagues at Penguin Random House UK. I wanted to share it with our wider community, too.

As we reflect on the horrific death of George Floyd and the outpouring of anger against racial injustice in the UK and across the world, we are looking inward to decide how we want to respond, as a company and as individuals. Most immediately, we are facilitating an open and honest conversation with everyone in our company, so that together we can accelerate our strategy to be a more inclusive company and publisher. We commit to sharing details of that planned acceleration shortly.

I am aware that the conversation has moved on since Monday and that there are many issues and concerns being shared on social media and more widely that this note does not address. That does not mean we are not listening and thinking about what those mean, and how we can and should address them. It’s important to us that we do this right: recognising the urgency behind the need for change, but also ensuring that change is meaningful, long-lasting and systemic.

Please note that sections in the note below which are in square brackets have been added to provide additional clarity and explanations for our external community.

Dear Everyone,

Like many of you, I’m sure, I have spent much of the weekend reflecting on the Black Lives Matter protests in the US, the UK and across the world, and how they have dramatically exposed, yet again, the systemic racism that Black people, and indeed all people of colour, face daily. While we are watching these events play out in the outside world, we must look inward to decide how we choose to respond, as a company and as individuals.

As a publisher, we believe in the power of words but, on this occasion, I find they fall short. Words are meaningful and necessary, but actions are profound and, particularly in the case of racial and social justice, speak louder.  

A colleague gave some very good advice last week, which was to ‘show our workings’ on how we aim to be a more inclusive employer and publisher. That is, it is better to say something than to stay silent, and that work in progress is better than waiting too long for the finished product (a consequence of being a book publisher, I suspect). It is excellent advice which I have taken to heart so, with that in mind, I wanted to share our workings.  

In 2016 we committed to an ambition for both our new hires and the authors we acquire to reflect UK society by 2025. Our commitment was that through our inclusivity strategy we would aim for a positive shift towards that goal every year through to 2025.

[Our progress in this area is outlined in our annual CR report, the most recent is available to read here. Our 2019 data will be published in June].

As I talked about last week, I am proud of the achievements we have made along the way. We have created 450 paid work experience placements; created nine editorial traineeships each year as part of the Scheme; established #Merky Books and nurtured and published  writers from under-represented communities through WriteNow, to which we have just received a record number of applications (nearly 4,000).

Whilst I am proud of the progress we have made, it is clear that we must now accelerate our work with urgency and be open to reassessing the goals we have set.  

Our strategy is focused on three core principles:

1. Achieving representation in all teams, building on the progress we have made at entry level but we will now also focus our energy and attention on how we extend across all levels by 2025.

2. Creating a culture of belonging for everyone.

3. Publishing books for everyone, by everyone.

Our People

We need to scale the work we have done through Job Hack [our careers workshops with young people across the country], the Scheme, paid work experience and internships, inclusive recruitment and sponsorship of the Spare Room Project to strengthen representation at the entry-level of our company. In addition, we must seize the opportunities created by flexible and virtual working to remove barriers to publishing and be open to new ways of working.  

At the same time, we must find effective ways to ensure that we represent society at all levels and across all teams, and this means supporting those not yet represented in more senior roles, including people of colour, to progress through the company. We will address the feedback we are hearing about our working culture that mean people don’t always feel like they belong. 

I want to reiterate the immediate steps we committed to:  

• In June we will bring forward the launch of a video and resources about how we build a culture of belonging, which I ask each of you to make the time to engage with.

• In July we will launch our annual Inclusivity Survey to collect anonymous demographic data for our workforce. We will publish our 2019 data by the end of June.

• In August we will pilot inclusivity training, which will be mandatory, and roll out to include all colleagues through the autumn.

Our Publishing

We must do more to live up to our goal of publishing books for everyone. We are proud to publish some of the world’s leading Black writers but we need to do more to identify, publish and amplify voices from all backgrounds. We are committed to scaling the impact of WriteNow and have doubled the number of places available this year to 300.  

We already audit the demographic make-up of our publishing to understand how many books by writers of colour we are acquiring and to help address the areas where we fall short. We publish this information annually and will be sharing the latest data by the end of this month.

And we will continue to invest in #Merky Books, launched with a commitment to publish the best new fiction, non-fiction and poetry from a generation of new voices.

Your chance to influence change

In the next few weeks, we have two forums where colleagues have a chance to participate in the conversation on how we move forward.  

First, the Inclusivity Working Group [an open forum of colleagues which has met regularly since 2015], which is chaired by Hannah Telfer and Val Garside, on 15 June. This is an open group so if you are interested in joining then please email Val. I have asked Hannah and Val to share the agenda and a pre-read for this meeting on our intranet this week.

Second, we will be hosting a Forum [a regular meeting of elected employee representatives and senior management to discuss the issues that matter to employees] later this month focused on how we can educate ourselves to be better allies, understand privilege and be anti-racist. These are fundamental to how we become a more inclusive company, so I encourage you to share your thoughts and ideas with your Forum Representative. 

As I said in the briefing last week, meaningful change requires intentional listening and active education so the onus is on me, the leadership team and all of you to do what we can to better understand the issue of racism, and to reflect on what we need to do differently as a result.

The work needed is hard, but critical, and we’re likely to make mistakes along the way. I want to do better, and I want our company to do better, and my hope is that through the discussion in these forums we can review the progress we have made and redouble our efforts with the collective input of the entire company. 

You have my commitment that I will be working with the leadership team to ensure that this is a priority and that we regularly examine and report our progress to ensure we drive meaningful and lasting change across our company, our industry and, through the power of our books, the world around us.  

With my best wishes,

Tom

Related articles