Diversity Is Hard

As is inevitable, I have come under a certain amount of criticism for my attempts to avoid any further personal attacks on the subject of gender balance. There are people out there who are convinced that we can only make progress by identifying the bad guys and making an example of them.

Well, who am I to disagree? But this new study by a (multi-gender) research team at the University of Toronto may give pause for thought. What they did was create an experiment in which they would try to reduce the level of prejudice held by their subjects. The subjects were divided into three groups. One group was instructed not to be prejudiced; one group was given information explaining the benefits of being less prejudiced; and the control group was not given any special instructions.

The attitudes of the subjects were measured before and after the study. Those who had been given positive motivation to be less prejudiced did respond to the message. But those who were instructed to be less prejudiced came out of the study with more prejudiced attitudes than when they went in.

Obviously this is just one study, but it is worth bearing in mind. If you tell people they are doing something wrong, they tend to get defensive, and eventually angry. If you encourage them to do things differently, they are more likely to respond. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

I make no comment on the ad that Google served up to go with that article.

Diversity is hard in other ways as well. If you pick isolated examples you really don’t know what has gone into creating the final gender balance. I get accused of being anti-woman too, and I’m sure I will do again, because it is really difficult at times to be balanced.

A case in point. For reasons that may become clear in a few weeks, I have been looking at what new books are being released by UK publishers later this year. I’ve used the Locus Forthcoming Books List as my guide. You can spot the UK-published books easily as the publisher names are highlighted in green. Take a look at the data for Sept-Dec of this year.

I counted UK-published 42 books. Of those, 9 were by women. Here they are: Rae Carson, Kate Elliott, Kristen Painter, NK Jemisin, Leigh Kennedy, Aliette de Bodard, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Janny Wurts, Amanda Downum.

Notice anything? Not one of those women is British. Not one. Aliette is French. All of the others are American.

So if I were, say, reviewing new UK-published books by British writers, and someone looked at the books I covered for the tail end of this year, they are quite likely to conclude that I was ignoring women and have a go at me over it.

I have no idea why there is such a dearth of books by British women. Maybe it is a statistical anomaly — there were two in August. Maybe they are being published by companies that don’t supply data to the Locus list. But when you see a list, don’t immediately assume that the lack of women is due to prejudice on the part of the person putting it together.

8 thoughts on “Diversity Is Hard

  1. For what it’s worth, I agree entirely with your take on it: I don’t think pillorying specific “bad guys” is going to help much (and definitely agree that if you point the finger at people, most of them tend to get defensive and angry). I’m sorry to hear you’ve come under fire for adopting that line of conduct.
    (though I do admit in certain specific cases, I’ve been tempted to shake some sense into people…)

  2. I agree in principle, but in specific cases of demonstrable bad behavior, or where you can prove that discrimination is actually and intentionally occurring, then I believe it is important to highlight those instances and seek redress and improvement. But general ‘lambasting’ – a waste of time in every circumstance I can think of.

  3. Cheryl, the link to the Locus Recommended Reading List that you give is to Mark Kelly’s “by month” reformating of Locus’ “Selected Books by Author” list, not the comprehensive “Forthcoming Books by Publisher” list. According to the overall “Forthcoming” list, Justina Robson’s Down to the Bone is coming out from Gollancz in September, a month after the American Pyr release. The “Selected” list misses that edition.

    I took a crack at counting books by women published in the UK using the “by Publisher” list, and it’s a difficult format to work through. Also, it’s all books, and that includes reprints of all sorts, a designation that includes “first UK publication” and “cheaper format” and “back in print” and “media tie-in edition” etc., so I think you’d need young eyes and a spreadsheet to sort all that out. If you’re looking for original publication of new work, there are more than 9, but the prospect still looks pretty bleak.

    1. The Justina isn’t a new book, it is a mass market paperback edition of a book that was first released earlier this year. It is good for BristolCon that it is out then, but for the purposes I was looking it doesn’t count.

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