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The story of the Usborne Academy
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Posted by IPG
Usborne’s Anna Howorth reports on her company’s efforts to increase its diversity, and shares tips for other publishers considering projects
We are aware at Usborne, as I’m sure all publishers are, of the ongoing conversation about the lack of diversity in the industry. We’re keen to do something to tackle this as soon as possible—but when faced with a complex problem it is easy to feel that if you can’t solve it there’s no point doing anything. To overcome this, we decided that we would just do something. It might not be perfect, but it would be a start. Our mantra was ‘start with what you can do’.

Who’s the Usborne Academy for?

When advertising this opportunity, we stated that it was for ‘people from backgrounds currently under-represented in the publishing industry’. We wanted to leave that as open as possible, and provide the opportunity for anyone who wanted to spend time at Usborne but who wouldn’t be able to without the support of this scheme—for whatever reason. There are so many barriers to working in publishing, many of them economic, and after we launched the Usborne Academy I received a great email from Sophie Waddy at the Society of Young Publishers that summed this up:
“As someone who didn’t grow up in London, I can’t begin to describe how valuable this scheme is. Publishers need to recognise that not only have they been asking people to work for free, they’re actually expecting them to pay for the privilege of work experience. If you have to take holiday from your summer job, then spend a month’s wages to travel in and out of London every day, it can be draining on both your energy and your resources.”

What we offered

We knew that we wanted to offer an all-expenses-paid opportunity because we felt that was the only way to break down those economic barriers. Not everyone has someone in London to stay with, or financial support from their parents, or free time during summer holidays. So we decided to cover the biggest investments: travel and accommodation. We offered return train fares from anywhere in the UK, a Travelcard for the week and six nights in university halls (Sunday to Saturday so they could do a full Monday to Friday in the office). Knowing that people might need to take unpaid leave from jobs to take part, we also offered the London Living Wage for a 40-hour week. That came to about £800 per person, and about half of that was the cost of wages. This shows that anyone doing a week’s unpaid placement might realistically need to spend £400 for the privilege. Based on these costs and the staff time and office space we’d need, we decided we could offer eight places.

Other costs to consider

Another major cost was consultancy, as we didn’t have the staff time in-house to manage the selection process (we had about 275 applications). With hindsight we could have reduced costs in that area, so I’d say to other publishers considering a scheme like this: you need either staff time for the selection process or budget to outsource it, so plan that out from the start. We did find it invaluable to work with a diversity expert though, so I would recommend seeking expert advice if only to help with this process. We also paid for quite a few extras such as lunches each day and kitties for after-work socials.

What we learned

For any other independent publishers considering doing something like this, here are three lessons we learned from the first Usborne Academy week.

1 Don’t underestimate the staff time involved

The selection process was more time-consuming than we estimated, and we overspent on consultancy because of that. We were also pushed for staff time during the week itself, as there was a lot of extra admin we hadn’t considered. And although each person only spent a half-day in each department, that did add up to some departments having people with them all day every day.

2 Do as much planning in advance as possible

I’d recommend making final selections as early as possible so that you know who is going to be with you. We pre-booked accommodation, but of course we couldn’t book travel until the candidates were selected.

3 It was brilliant

We were all bowled over by how lovely, smart and talented the Usborne Academy 8 were; how much they enjoyed the week; and how much we enjoyed having them around. They told us that they found the experience really useful, they got on brilliantly as a group, and it was great to see them grow in confidence during the week. We’ve also had loads of positive feedback from staff about how proud they are to work for a publisher who is taking action on diversity and trying to do something positive.
If you are thinking about running a similar scheme at your company and have further questions, I would be happy for you to email me at
Anna Howorth is director of global branding and UK marketing at Usborne. Click here for more about the Usborne Academy. The SYP has blogs about the Academy here and here.

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