Yesterday Juliet McKenna put up a long post looking at the issue of how SF&F books are promoted by Waterstones. She has had some friends doing a survey of stores around the country. It looks like there is some pretty good evidence that the feature tables for SF&F are biased in favor of male authors. This is one of the issues we discussed at the Women & Publishing panel at Finncon, where I noted that the last time I was in the Bristol store the counts were 5/35 for fantasy, and 0/35 for SF. If you assumed that the store staff thought Robin Hobb was a man, the fantasy count would change to 3/35.
Juliet makes some excellent points about how Waterstones are hurting their own sales by this behavior. There are plenty of women who read SF&F. Indeed, as another data point, the majority of members of The Emporium Strikes Back, the SF&F book club at Mr. B’s, are women. But why is the effect Juliet notes happening, and what can be done?
Obviously lack of knowledge by buyers and store staff is a contributing issue. Heck, the SF&F table at my local store has disappeared completely since we’ve had a change in management. But even when there is knowledge it doesn’t always filter through. Last year, when Juliet first started making a fuss about this issue, my local manager wrote to head office asking why she was given so few women SF&F books to stock. The buyer wrote back enthusing about something called Ancillary Justice that they expected to be a big seller. And yet, when it came out, my local store wasn’t sent any copies, and the book still isn’t getting pushed much in any store I have seen despite the heap of award wins.
Then of course there is the whole issue of publishers, the editorial staff of whom appear to be mostly female. Yet they too appear to mostly push SF&F by male writers at the expense of women. At Finncon Elizabeth Bear noted that she found UK publishers much more hostile to women SF writers than in the USA.
With all this in mind, I found this article on Mashable very interesting. It reports on an academic study of middle managers in large US corporations, and looked at how those managers’ performance was rated on the basis of their hiring choices. As a back-up, the study was replicated as an experiment using college students role-playing the senior management, and this produced similar results.
What the study found is that, although the corporations has policies advocating diversity, and although white male managers were praised for making diverse hires, female managers and PoC managers were given negative performance evaluations if they recruited people like them.
This appears to be telling us two things. Firstly prejudice is probably much more ingrained and subconscious than we like to think. And secondly women and PoC who are in a position to improve diversity within in their organizations are likely to damage their careers if they do so. No wonder this stuff is so hard to shift.