The figures are clear: European literature could do far better when it comes to diversity. Whether it’s a matter of the range of characters in books or the composition of teams in literary organizations and companies, there’s work to be done. Why is diversity so essential? Perhaps you need a bit of prompting to convince you of the importance of seeing more inclusive books published. Here are five good reasons.
1 Personal development
If you are handed a book as a mirror, you can recognize yourself in it and feel confirmed and valued in your existence. Scientific research has demonstrated that reading stories that feature role models in which you can recognize yourself makes an important contribution to your personal development, and indeed to your reading pleasure, motivation to read and reading skills. Those are surely things we would want for everyone.
2 Discover the world
Literature also gives you an opportunity to discover the world. Children need books and stories as windows on the world, so they can learn that theirs is not the only perspective. It’s an important precondition for the development of empathy, citizenship and social insight. Again, surely these are things that should be available to all.
3 Perform better
From a business and economic perspective too, there are benefits to promoting diversity and inclusion. Companies with teams that have a diverse composition as regards gender, origin, skin colour and other aspects perform considerably better than their rivals.
Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror.
Professor Rudine Sims Bishop
4 Reach more readers
Then there’s the extra readership you have the potential to reach. Think rising sales figures. An American report by Adobe shows that no less than 62% of consumers value inclusive marketing by businesses. That expectation is no different for literature.
5 You have the power
Literature and books increasingly need to compete with other entertainment sectors. There too people are continually looking for new and innovative perspectives and talents. Literature must not get left behind. Recent research shows that compared to visual media, books have a unique cognitive power to involve readers personally and facilitate identification and empathy. Of course we all know that literature is a powerful medium with huge potential. So let’s use it to the full.
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American professor Sarah Park Dahlen looked into how many different kinds of characters could be found in English-language children’s books in 2018. Of all the characters, she discovered that 50% had a white skin colour, and a further 27% were animals or objects. That means that only 23% of children’s book characters in the US are non-white humans. Their origins are Native American (1%), Latin American (5%), Asiatic (7%), or African or African American (10%). The figures for the United Kingdom are similar. In a study called Reflecting Realities the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) shows that only 10% of all children’s books published in the UK in 2019 included one or more characters from an ethnic minority. Only 5% had such a person as the protagonist.
Streaming platform Netflix has a clear and extensive diversity policy. As well as airing a large number of series and films with diversity-related themes and diverse casting, it has put an ambitious plan for inclusiveness into operation behind the scenes.