The written word can still change the world

Author:Michiel Kolman
Position:Senior Vice President, Information Industry Relations; Academic Ambassador, Elsevier

*Michiel Kolman is also Presidential Envoy for Diversity and Inclusion at the International Publishers Association, Board member of the Accessible Books Consortium and Workplace Pride.

The written word in its most basic form enables a transfer of knowledge from the ideas of an author directly into the hearts and minds of readers across the world. For centuries, it has transformed our society and in 2020, we need the written word - and publishers - more than ever.

Smaller and newer publishers, in particular, often led by women are proving to be more innovative and willing to challenge the status quo by publishing work that is beyond the mainstream and that provides a platform for new voices. (Photo: WIPO/E.Berrod)

The publishing industry, tasked with the responsibility of guiding the public discourse on topics from climate change to mental health, is driving change. Publishers are agents of change and there are good reasons why we still need them in the modern world.

Agents of change

The publishing industry is at the forefront of efforts to promote diversity and inclusion. In my role as the Presidential Envoy for Diversity and Inclusion for the International Publishers Association (IPA), I see that the publishing industry is increasingly embracing these ideals. That is a good thing. It is right that everyone in publishing should feel welcome and included.

PublishHER, an industry-led initiative, spearheaded by the IPA’s Vice President, Bodour Al Qasimi, herself a driving force for the development of publishing in the Arab world, is a striking example of what the industry is doing to promote gender equality. PublishHER is a call to action by leading female publishers to tackle deep-routed gender imbalances in the industry and to drive an international agenda for change.

Publishers are agents of change and there are good reasons why we still need them in the modern world.

But beyond being the right thing to do, there is also a clear business case to support diversity and inclusion. Companies that embrace diversity and pursue inclusion perform significantly better financially. Those led by executive teams that do not reflect the diversity of today’s societies, with respect to gender or ethnicity, for example, pay a penalty in terms of poor economic performance.

Data from the Global North show that the publishing industry is making great progress on gender diversity. For instance, UK data by the Publishers Association on the Publishing...

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