Where are the Women CEOs in the Book Industry?

By Susannah Greenberg

Three recent news stories and the subsequent media coverage of them have me thinking about gender equality in the workplace and more specifically in the book industry:

Pioneering Woman Astronaut Sally Ride’s passing and posthumous coming out;
Marissa Mayer’s appointment as CEO of Yahoo at 37 years old and pregnant;
and Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in the Atlantic Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.

How far have we really come nearly 50 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned sex discrimination at work? How far have we come from the days of Sally Ride’s flight into space, the first for an American woman? How far if it still makes headlines that a woman, a pregnant woman, is made CEO in Silicon Valley? How far if it is still a matter of heated debate in the wake of the Atlantic article as to whether women can work and be mothers?

My thoughts then turned to our own industry, which I am proud to be a part of, but it is not above the fray. Is there a glass ceiling in the book world? Do women in the book industry have an equal chance to rise to the top? How many women as they mature, gain experience and qualify for more senior management positions are forced to drop out, or start their own small businesses, because of the gender pay gap, the pyramid effect, or the lack of affordable childcare? Where are the women CEOs? Are women proportionately represented among the CEO ranks in an industry mostly populated by women?

To be sure there are women CEOs in some key leadership roles in book publishing: Gina Centrello of Random House, Marjorie Scardino at Pearson, and Carolyn Reidy at Simon & Schuster, come to mind.

However, the Publishers Weekly Salary Survey of 2009, the most recent available online, shows a serious pay gap between men and women, and also that although women are the majority (85%) of the employees at the entry level, they do not hold the majority of leadership positions.

Publishers Weekly Salary Survey of 2009:

  • Women avg. pay: $64,600
  • Men avg. pay: $105,130
  • 85% of employees with fewer than three years of experience were women. The only area where men outnumber women is in management, where the highest paying jobs are found.

What can be done? For one thing, women in publishing must be encouraged to keep up with the digital revolution transforming the book industry, from ebooks to Internet book selling, to social media marketing. This is one reason for the panels on digital books and online book marketing which I have been organizing for the Women’s National Book Association New York City Chapter since 2009, (like this one in March 2012 which was written up in Publishers Weekly) which not only provide valuable information but also hold forth the role models of women succeeding in the digital realm within our industry. For another, while progress is being made, we should not become too comfortable and complacent with women’s achievements in the book industry. We need to be vigilant and to continue to demand more progress or risk losing more ground. Battles can and are still being fought for women’s equality and won; like the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.

The full moral and spiritual transformation toward justice that will allow equality in the workplace, including the book industry, equality that will benefit women, men, and families—equality for women, for gays and lesbians, for minorities, for people of different races, religions and cultures, for the disabled, for parents, for aging workers—is slow in coming. Until then, organizations like the Women’s National Book Association fulfill an important mission for women’s equality, one WNBA has been fulfilling since its founding nearly 100 years ago: women helping other women succeed in this book business.

Of Related Interest:

CATALYST: Statistical Overview of Women in the Workplace

United States Department of Labor: Myth Busting the Pay Gap

New York Times: In Google’s Inner Circle, a Falling Number of Women

Cover Story: 50 Top Women in Book Publishing. Book Business honors leading female executives who are helping to shape the industry

Book Review. The New York Times. Business Day. OFF THE SHELF. ‘Good Girls’ Fight to Be Journalists

Susannah Greenberg is a past president and past publicity chair of The Women’s National Book Association of New York City, and columnist for The New York Bookwoman. She is the president of a book publicity firm, Susannah Greenberg Public Relations. She can be reached at publicity@bookbuzz.comTwitter @suegreenbergpr, Facebook, LinkedIn or via her blog: http://bookbuzzbysgpr.blogspot.com.

Please get in touch with Susannah with your comments on this article or if you can point to more data which shows what percentage of CEOs in the book industry are women. Continue the conversation on Twitter with hashtag: #wnbadiscuss.  


  1. I am concerned about this too. When I worked at St. Martin’s Press, yes, Sally Richardson was the Publisher (now President) but nearly all the rest of upper management was male and it seeped into the culture which had its hints of fraternity (in the “hazing” sort of way, not “brotherly.”) And I really was impressed with Jane Friedman, the CEO of HarperCollins, but then she was pushed out in 2008 in a rather undignified manner. We may think we’ve broken the glass ceiling, but 1-2 female executives is in no way equal.

    Now I hate business books but I strongly recommend Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois P. Frankel. Not only was it actually a fun read (seriously!) but it gave me some invaluable advice I still use today, such as not touching your hair in the office (if it’s constantly in your face get some barrettes or bobby pins!) and not sitting on your foot (it makes you look like a child and serves to subconsciously infantalize you in the minds of the men in the room.)

    Thank you for bringing up this important topic, Susannah!

  2. Hear hear! Why is this never discussed anymore? It’s not like the problem has been solved. Thanks so much for writing this Susannah!

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  4. Thank you, Carin and Rhona. The support of the Women’s National Book Association and friends like you make a big difference to counterbalance the gender inequality in our industry.

  5. I put the Newsweek book on hold at the library! 🙂

  6. I think that it is important for women leaders to get out there and be an example for other women. For instance Lisa Anderson, a senior supply chain and operations executive and founder and President of LMA Consulting Group, Inc, is one of my biggest heroes. I am just so impressed by her latest book, “Leverage Social Networks to Drive Business Results.” It is inspiring to see other women being so accomplished.