The old cliché “a picture is worth a thousand words” holds special meaning to me. Photography has always been my passion and it was one of the ways I was able to navigate the publishing industry throughout my 20+ year career. As a bright-eyed college grad who wanted to be a writer, I started as an editorial assistant and quickly found that communications was where I belonged. I loved connecting with people and telling their story through words and images. My position provided me with the opportunity to travel across the country and take photos at street fairs, book expos, author talks, concerts, and sales conferences. This gave me purpose and fulfillment, but it also influenced the way I viewed diversity in the publishing industry.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time taking photos and meeting authors, editors, agents and the occasional celebrity. I’ll always remember the time I met Oprah Winfrey at the National Book Awards, AND when I was invited to a star-studded book launch party hosted by Susan L. Taylor. But as I reviewed the hundreds of images I would take, I would notice there were very few people of color in my executive assignments –particularly in scholarly publishing. As an African American woman, it gave me pause because it appeared as if we were virtually “invisible” in those circles.
Publishing is a predominately white, female industry with very little diversity – especially at the executive level. But research shows that diversity leads to better innovation and increased profits. To stay competitive and relevant, companies must cultivate an environment of inclusiveness. Not only do you have to hire more people of color in the workplace you have to keep them there. This is an ongoing process. Too often I’ve heard of talented women of color who leave their jobs because they don’t feel valued or feel like they belong.
Nowadays, in addition to my photography, I use my networks and influence to change the narrative with a 3-pronged approach: awareness, education, and networking. I bring awareness by providing colleagues with an open space to talk about issues such as microaggressions, gender equality, and equal pay. If you don’t know or understand what the problem is, you can’t address it. National heritage months provide a perfect opportunity to educate colleagues about different cultures. And it also feels great when the company you work for celebrates your heritage. Networking is also important. I launched a global Lean In program at my company where women and men form small peer circles and meet regularly to talk about professional development or other topics related to their careers.
With movements such as #metoo and #timesup so widespread, this is the perfect time start working towards gender and racial parity. Progress has been made, but there’s still more work to be done. Through awareness, education, and networking, we can shape workplace culture. Let’s keep the conversation going!
Lattelle Solomon Reaves is a communications professional with over 20 years of experience in Publishing. She holds a MS in Publishing from Pace University.