Interview: Margaret Casely-Hayford
Margaret Casely-Hayford, Chair of CILIP’s Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards Diversity Review, talks to Rob Mackinlay about her experience of society’s ingrained inequality, how this has informed the review, and why all aspects of language and process need to be implemented carefully by anyone hoping to increase diversity.
“Because reading gives us greater insight into the lives of others, it’s a truism that it creates empathy and awareness” says Margaret Casely-Hayford CBE, Chancellor of Coventry University and Chair of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. “I suppose, as a consequence, we would expect ourselves to be better able to deal with the sorts of diversity issues that other organisations have handled relatively badly.”
But she hasn’t seen a lot of evidence to support this. Instead she thinks “We are part of a societal structure that has existed for thousands of years so it’s not really surprising that we are similar to most other organisations and most other industries.”
Do you mean it?
CILIP launched the diversity review in 2017 after concerns had been raised about the lack of diversity among the authors and illustrators on the awards’ longlists – none were black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME). Margaret was approached to chair the review. “In choosing me, CILIP was saying we know minorities are out there, here is someone who is like you so that you can see that we mean business. One of the things we need to remember is that there are people who feel like Reni Eddo-Lodge who wrote Why I No Longer Speak to White People About Race – there are a lot of people who think, ‘I feel it’s no longer worth it, they just don’t hear us.’ And so, in order to make the whole review meaningful, I had to be sure that CILIP really were serious about the review; and my initial discussions with Chief Executive Nick Poole, Chair of the Board Karen McFarlane, and the professionals on the panel made me confident they really were.”
Margaret’s reference to Reni Eddo-Lodge is not academic. She has experienced a kind of blindness to the issues of race and gender in society. “I talk to people who really don’t understand the extent of their privilege. It’s not misogynistic, or racist, they’re not saying they don’t like women or black people. It’s just not even in their contemplation, that certain people should be entitled to walk into a boardroom.”
Evidence from the review and elsewhere suggests such blindness is applied equally to disabled and other visible and invisible differences.
The review acknowledges that diversity is weak at an early stage in the book industry process and that the review of the librarian-judged awards, needs also to take place “amid a number of diversity and inclusion initiatives in the publishing sector.”
Does this mean criticism cannot be levelled at librarians? After all, as a profession, librarians enjoy a good reputation. The statistics show that public libraries serve more ethnic minorities than all other cultural institutions. “I know what you’re going to say,” Margaret says, “and you’d be surprised. One of the interesting things that I’ve found is that nice people can be quite hard people to shift. It’s because they’re so lovely they don’t realise that we all have some element of unconscious bias, or it could be that they have a concern about destabilising the status quo.”
She points out that the Carnegie Greenaway diversity review took place within the context of CILIP’s profession-wide Equalities and Diversity Action Plan, to address a number of diversity issues within a context of data showing a predominantly white, female, middle class, postgraduate profession, in which most of the leadership roles are still held by men. “This tells us something about the innate conservatism of all of us in society. The thing that’s broken is the same thing that’s broken in the rest of society. So, bearing that in mind, it is very hard to imagine the profession shifting inequalities until we realise that our own innate conservatism is preventing us from seeing them as inequalities.”
But she said that blindness is not one sided: “The raising of awareness is necessary across the piece. It’s all of us. We have to speak to those of us who stand outside saying ‘it’s not fair, they won’t let us in’ and check whether they are knocking at the door or need to ask for directions to know which are the doors that open up to opportunity.” Some people who want to contribute will have given up, others simply can’t see themselves so don’t see the opportunities. She says that systemic problems are not always obvious, even to its victims. “I was bought up on Alice in Wonderland, Enid Blyton, Arthur Ransome and E. Nesbit. All of the protagonists were white and middle class. One just accepted that’s what society was like. I had a middle-class background, it was very much the same background as in the books, but I never saw myself in anything. Yet I never expected to.”
However, she said she identified with the character of Jo in Louisa May Alcott’s books Jo’s Boys and Little Women because of “her determination to be a writer in spite of growing up in a society that imposed limitations on girls and I really recognised myself in that.”
But she said: “Even having read that, as a girl, I still didn’t think about the fact that there were no writers pushing boundaries for ethnic minorities or women.”
She said: “It was only as my daughter was growing up, and I was reading to her, that I thought, this is astonishing, the canon had been remarkably narrow but is now changing with the advent of Jacqueline Wilson and writers who introduced new experiences and different types of families. Now life has moved on so much. I was honed by a certain sort of canon of writing and my daughter’s generation expects more now, and so they should.”
It wasn’t until Margaret was 40 and went to Brazil that she saw her situation more clearly. “My husband and I and my daughter were shopping in Brazil and I suddenly realised that it was a very different experience. I kept thinking “what’s happening here?” The former Director of Legal Services for the John Lewis Partnership says: “I didn’t feel that there were people looking at me thinking ‘well there’s the shoplifter, let’s keep an eye on her’.”
It shed light on her experience. “My husband, who is not black, couldn’t understand why, for example, when at home, we would go into Marks & Spencer if someone said ‘can I help you’ I’d snap at them, shouting out the word ‘No’. He would say: ‘What’s wrong with you?’” After Brazil, she realised that what had been wrong could be described as the Othello syndrome: “when you overreact in a certain situations because of all the pressure that you’ve experienced through your life. I hadn’t realised it till then, myself,” she says. “I’d been very fortunate in the way I was brought up. Yet I still felt that pressure. So how much worse could it be for others? That’s what I mean by saying it’s very difficult to explain to people what it’s like. Even the nicest people, like my husband.”
Her personal experience has helped her chair the review to which more than 600 people have contributed. She said: “One of the most important things is to make sure all the relevant voices are being heard so the first thing is to find out who has been contacted, whether the scope is sufficiently wide, whether all the people contacted will feel that they have the right stake. So you have to make sure that you create a safe environment, that people feel confident in being open and honest. You also have to make sure that the existing professionals don’t feel this is a witch hunt, you’ve got to spend time with them and understand them and what change they have already discerned as necessary and what they do already. So there’s quite a lot of background research that needs to be done.”
One factor in attracting excluded people to join in is language. She mentions work in the US by the founder of a charity called TechGirlz, Tracey Welson-Rossman, that found a change of language resulted in a 70 per cent increase in the enrolment of women in tech courses.
She believes the existing language comes with baggage and might ignore the power dynamic. “Inclusivity has been shown to be very much in the power of the includer – for example with Windrush we are discovering that inclusivity was finite. That’s something we need to be careful about, that inclusivity has a power imbalance built into it. And the term ‘diversity’ as a concept assumes the white middle class male is the norm.”
She prefers a focus on “participation”: “If you think about participation, it’s a two-way street. One party says ‘we want you to have an active part’ and the other needs to say to themselves ‘I want to have an active part’ and that is very useful to balancing the power. It acknowledges that we all have a right and an ability to be part of the activity. And the useful thing about participation is that when you give a person the right to participate, if they haven’t yet got the wherewithal, then if you help them acquire the tools to get there, they can actively participate to mutual benefit.”
Technology is disrupting most professions, Margaret says, and genuine diversity and the awareness that is needed to foster it, will prove valuable to any profession in the future. “One of the things that is really important is that an enormous amount of the work that we do at the moment is going to be automated, in every profession, even in law, medicine, librarianship. Artificial intelligence will actually absorb a huge amount of what we currently do and that part of what we do, the machines will learn much more quickly than we can. If someone as intelligent as Jack Ma – the founder and CEO of Alibaba – says that now is the time to leave tech to go into teaching because, as he put it, if the machines can learn fact-based skills more quickly than we can, then why are wasting time competing with them in that? We should be teaching soft skills that people will carry out more effectively than machines: empathy, self-reliance, resilience and innovation.”
There is a dark side to technology too. “It’s an important point to consider: whether technology is diversity friendly. Technology can be blind and it can afford better opportunities but we have to be very careful not to be complacent. Algorithms are established by people and they can bake in our prejudices and biases. I was horrified that if you google ‘black teenagers’ you got mugshots but if you google ‘white teenagers’ you got people playing tennis and having picnics. We need to be careful. So while the review’s evidence suggests the profession is no more prone to diversity issues than any other, the potential role of librarians in helping communities to navigate the ongoing information revolution makes it vital that these issues are addressed.”