As the SfEP prepares to report on the findings of its first equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) audit, we interview Vanessa Plaister, community director, and explore what led the SfEP to take this step.
You’re relatively new to the SfEP Council, Vanessa, and you’ve hit the ground running with an equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiative. How did that come about?
It was all a bit of a whirlwind! One minute I was reaching out to Sue [Browning, then community and now membership director] in my capacity as local group coordinator for Mid-Somerset, asking her for a steer towards the SfEP’s equality statement, and the next I found myself co-opted onto the Council, taking the lead on developing just such a statement – and more…
As a member, I’d never considered putting myself forward – but being on the Council has been the challenge I didn’t know I needed and I’m thrilled not only to be part of a vibrant, dynamic team, but also that not one director has questioned why the SfEP needs to be embedding equality, diversity and inclusion across its activities. I think there was Council buy-in on this before I even raised a hand.
It’s clear that EDI issues matter to you and to the Council. Can you tell us why?
Good question. Because these are issues so woven into who I am – who I want to be – stepping back and trying to put the why into words is difficult. For me, I guess, if you’re not concerned about issues of equality, diversity and inclusion in the UK where the wealth gap is ever growing, in which women are raising their voices to call out everyday sexism and in which structural racism is ever more exposed, you’re not listening. I can’t speak for the other directors as to why these and other related issues matter to them, but for me it’s imperative that I do what I can to amplify those voices that are and have historically been less heard and to lift up those folk who are and have historically been ground down.
And although I’m not really on board with the requirement for a business case – a profit motive – to underpin any social good, part of inclusive practice is acknowledging that not everyone thinks quite the same way I do… And some folk need to know that diversity and inclusion are demonstrably good for business. They open up markets and embrace excluded audiences, and they build the bottom line.
And what about the SfEP’s members? Why should equality, diversity and inclusion matter to them?
It’s firmly established within the SfEP standards and editorial syllabus that some general knowledge and awareness of cultural issues is essential if an editor is to practise effectively. Sarah Grey has written on inclusive language for the SfEP blog, and there’ll be a session on editors and inclusivity at the SfEP Conference 2019; Erin Carrie has twice written on the issue of linguistic prejudice, both in theory and in practice, which is something to which it’s all too easy for an editor to fall prey. In publishing on these sorts of issues, the SfEP is clearly positioning itself in opposition to those who misrepresent editors and proofreaders as fusty grammarians, clinging to outdated prescriptions that don’t keep pace with modern communications, which I think couldn’t be further from the truth!
For members, it’s also essential to remember that, as an association of members, the SfEP is its members. From the Council through the local group coordinators, the social media team and the ambassadors, to name but a few, every role is held by a member and every activity is member-led. What this means is that barriers to participation are barriers to the SfEP delivering value to its members. The more diverse and inclusive the SfEP’s activities, the more valuable those activities become.
And that means the SfEP must embed policy that’s not only informed by the shape of our membership now and our goals for the future, but also action-focused to widen participation and meet the needs of our members meaningfully.
You started work on developing that policy by delivering the SfEP’s very first EDI audit to members in late April and early May this year. Tell us a bit about that.
When I joined the Council, I wasn’t interested in drafting a policy that simply paid lip service to the subject, copying and pasting from other organisations’ templates. The SfEP needs a strategic EDI policy – and the first step towards setting out where we need to go is figuring out where we are now.
There were two sections to the audit: the first focused on issues of equality and diversity, including protected and other personal characteristics; the second, on indicators of inclusion, such as fairness, belonging and voice. We can benchmark the findings in the first section against the Publishers Association (PA) survey of diversity and inclusion across the publishing industry as a whole,1 and against figures for the UK more widely. We based the questions in the second section on questions developed by data analysts at SurveyMonkey and social scientists at Paradigm, fine-tuning them to allow SfEP members to reflect on their membership experience. We also added questions on participation in each of the SfEP’s shared spaces – local groups, forums, conference – as well as the experience of members as volunteers. And we asked The Diversity Trust to review the audit questions and the accompanying communications because professional standards matter.
Using SurveyMonkey, we conducted the audit anonymously to maximise participation and authenticity, and we assured members that their responses would be held confidentially and accessed only by a single named individual (the community director), with the results to be published in aggregate only.
I think it’s also important to note that we delivered a sequence of communications before and during the audit, including FAQs each time, and that this may have contributed to our remarkably high response rate of 41 per cent.
Since the audit closed, data analysis has been time-consuming – not least because language professionals may be more likely than other respondents to take advantage of free text spaces to add commentary. There’s so much of value in this textual data that I’m consequently still working on the report – but we hope to be in a position to publish it very soon…
Okay. So, you’re still working on the report – but can you give us any sneak peeks into your findings?
[Pauses for thought] I don’t think it would come as any great surprise to anyone if I were to confirm that, of the 883 members who responded, a massive 80 per cent were women, which is considerably higher than the 63.4 per cent of respondents to the PA survey of diversity and inclusion within the publishing industry more broadly and the 52 per cent of women within the UK population.2
Another finding that’s perhaps unsurprising is that while the PA found a significant peak (37.9 per cent) in the age of its respondents at the 25–34 range,3 only 9.6 per cent of respondents to the SfEP’s EDI audit fell within that range, the more prevalent being 45–54 (ie 45–49 plus 50–54, grouped to map onto the PA’s ranges). The Council has long anticipated that a lot of our members may have come to editing and proofreading as a second career or after working in-house for a period of time, and these findings suggest that this may well be the case.
What’s especially interesting to me is the way in which these sorts of findings are intersecting with other factors, such as disability and mental health, or barriers to participation such as childcare or accessibility – but you’ll need to wait for the full report to be published to find out more!
Sounds interesting – and exciting.
It is. It really is.
For me and for the Council, it’s about core values – about signalling what kind of organisation the SfEP is and wants to be, and about embedding those values to take the SfEP forward into an inclusive future. When I work with the SfEP’s social media team and when I follow our members on Twitter, I see language professionals who engage thoughtfully and constructively with progressive ideas, and who know that our work is keenly relevant to equality, diversity and inclusion.
- We talk about the inclusivity of gender-neutral pronouns and we embrace the long-established singular ‘they’.
- We talk about the access issues that learners might encounter if their textbooks are taken out of print and available on-screen only.
- We talk about the physical and mental health of freelancers, and we engage with #StetWalk or establish the SfEP’s Run On Group on Facebook…
This is who we are already.
And I’m so excited to showcase the evidence and take the next steps.
1 The Publishers Association, Publishing Industry Workforce Diversity and Inclusion Survey 2018, available online at https://www.publishers.org.uk/activities/inclusivity/survey-of-the-publishing-workforce/
2 Ibid, p7.
3 Ibid, p6.
Vanessa Plaister is an Advanced Professional Member (APM) who became SfEP community director in September 2018 and is working to bring equality, diversity and inclusion to the fore in all SfEP policy and procedure. She can commonly be found smothered by cats and surrounded by strong coffee or else risking whiplash at the front of a sweaty rock gig – and you can also find her in the SfEP Directory of Editorial Services here.
Proofread by Liz Jones, Advanced Professional Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.