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Q&A: Meet BIPOC of Publishing in Canada, a new industry collective looking to foster connections and support

BIPOC of Publishing in CanadaIn June 2019, BIPOC of Publishing in Canada launched on social media. The collective aims to provide a platform and support for BIPOC working within Canadian publishing, and to strive toward a more inclusive industry.

Q&Q spoke to the founders of the group about their goals and future plans.

Who are the founders of the collective?
Aeman Ansari, agency assistant at CookeMcDermid; Hana El Niwairi, subsidiary rights associate at Cooke International; Marina Ferreira, publisher operations coordinator at Rakuten Kobo; and Paige Gunning, social media coordinator at Penguin Random House Canada.

As a collective, what are your short-term goals and plans?
The idea for this collective came about because we realized there was a large void in publishing for the BIPOC working within the industry: a lack of community. We wanted to create a common space where we could gather in solidarity, foster connections, share resources, and support each other, as we each found working in the industry to be a very isolating experience.

We understood that meeting in person on a regular basis wouldn’t be possible or comfortable for everyone who could make use of such a group, so we decided to create a space online where we could foster those initial connections. We do plan to also organize regular social events for those who are able to make it to the city in the very near future. This is all about moving away from the silos and the isolation BIPOC currently within Canadian publishing often feel and for them to recognize that they do have allies and colleagues who understand.

What are your long-term plans?
Though we are currently focused on supporting BIPOC who are already working in the industry, one of our long-term plans is to develop a mentorship program for BIPOC students and those looking to join the industry. We know first-hand how difficult it is to get a job in publishing, and especially the added class and economic barriers many BIPOC often have to deal with when they’re simply considering joining the industry. Currently, this is not something we see many within the industry addressing, so this initiative would create opportunities for our members to pass on the tools and support needed to succeed to future generations of people joining Canadian publishing.

What kind of advocacy role do you want to fill?
Right now, our focus is on support. While we believe that the industry still has ways to go to make itself a sustainable career path for many BIPOC, it is going to take time and resources that we currently don’t possess. We want to ensure that the BIPOC professionals currently working in publishing feel like they have a community they can turn to for encouragement and eventually, we want to act as a resource for those looking to join the industry. There is very little understanding regarding how to create diverse and inclusive working environments, free of microaggressions, a fact which often results in BIPOC leaving this industry. This allows the lack of diversity in publishing to continue. It’s a vicious cycle, and we are trying to create change by supporting our community instead of putting the onus on them to change systems they may have little to no power within.

What has been the reaction so far?
We are very grateful and pleasantly surprised to have received overwhelming support from many parts of the industry, within hours of launching our Twitter account. Everyone who has been in touch seems to recognize how important it is to have this space and make these connections, and we look forward to strengthening those networks and working with the different people who have welcomed us so warmly.

Who has been reaching out to you, in terms of type of position/experience level?
Right now, there is a range of people. The goal is to have BIPOC from as many positions and levels of experience as possible.

How are you growing the membership, and how are you communicating with each other?
Social media is the biggest tool for those trying to challenge the status quo and amplify the voices of marginalized people within this industry, and that has been our main mode of communication. As we mentioned, we do want to have physical spaces as well, but the reality is that we are going to largely be an online community because we want to be as inclusive as possible, which means we want to connect people from all of the provinces and regions in this country. Membership is growing through word of mouth and the hope is that this growing network will eventually allow us to start our mentorship project as well.

Are there similar groups in other countries or industries that you’ve taken as a model or example?
Yes, there are several. A couple of them being POC in Publishing in the U.S. and #BAMEinPublishing in the U.K.

I noticed on a tweet that this group is focused on publishing professionals exclusively, and not writers. Why did you decide to make this the focus?
The tweet referred to our Facebook group specifically. BIPOC of Publishing aims to be inclusive to all BIPOC working within or around publishing, however, as our main objective is creating a community for the isolated BIPOC working in publishing, it is important for us to be able to provide them with a private space where they can be as comfortable and as transparent as they need to be about working within the industry.

While we know BIPOC writers are aware of the challenges facing BIPOC professionals within the industry, we believe that there needs to be a space for BIPOC professionals to meet their peers and engage in these sensitive but important conversations. We do want the industry overall to stay in tune with all of the interesting projects we are working on, and Twitter is the space to watch for that. For now, we want to start off with these two avenues: a more public-facing Twitter account, and a more focused Facebook group. Our hope is that we can branch out in the future with events and projects for both writers and professionals.

Is there anything else that you think people should know?
If you identify as a BIPOC working in Canadian publishing or someone working to become a part of it, reach out to us. We want to get to know you, to put you in touch with people who can help, to be your support system.