Who We Are: Embodied and Whole

Araxi  Polony Posted by Araxi Polony, Sales and Marketing Intern, Berrett-Koehler.

Who We Are: Embodied and Whole


90% white                                           65% male


5% people of color                              20% female





I’ve spent the last week scouring over pages of semi-organized (ok – not very organized) Diversity and Inclusion research here at Berrett-Koehler. There’s a lot to read, a lot to take in; this is only my second week at BK as the Sales and Marketing intern, and already I am happily overwhelmed with the amount of attention BK gives to acknowledging and remedying systemic barriers within the publishing industry.

The above figures are staggering – they suggest a systemic problem of implicit bias and prejudice of which we take part. The numbers represent the percentage of authors signed throughout the entirety of Berrett-Koehler’s history, through the lens of race and gender. And unfortunately, they are more or less typical of the greater book publishing world’s demographics. In all, we publish predominately white and male authors, even despite efforts to reach and sign writers of underrepresented identities. 

That said, I believe Berrett-Koehler’s mission – to sign a group of authors that accurately reflects the makeup of the United States – requires a far more complex image of “diversity” than anything that can be graphed, labeled, or categorized. In other words, though the demographics above offer a starting point from which we can move forward, they do not and cannot serve as our end goal.

So what story can these numbers tell us, then?

One thing is glaringly obvious – we have room to improve. Reaching our objective requires the quantitative data to measure our current situation; our failings, successes, and progress made. Establishing metrics and tracking those numbers are essential in our work to bridge the clear disparities between our goals and our reality. And moreover, it is central to Berrett-Koehler’s mission for critical self-evaluation.

However, simply focusing on quantitative analysis fails to capture the complete humanity of the individuals we have signed and want to sign; to honor each author’s unique vantage point and needs; to celebrate each of their distinct histories and stories.

I believe Berrett-Koehler has the opportunity here (as do all other book publishers, and businesses for that matter) to challenge the tendency to see race and gender, and so many other embodied identities, as mutually exclusive categories. But it will require something beyond the standard practice of Affirmative Action metrics.  

I should first give credit where credit is due: Kimberle Crenshaw, a leading scholar of critical race theory, coined the term intersectionality in typical academic fashion. According to Crenshaw, intersectionality is a provisional concept meant to fuse falsely separated, mutually exclusive categories.

Right, so what does that mean, in practice, at BK? 

Bad news – as with a lot of this stuff, there isn’t any clear consensus on what it actually means: some say intersectionality is the juncture of identity with experience; other say it’s about understanding interpersonal commonalities – how our identities can be shared and mutually experienced; others claim it is meant to make us whole again – meant to end the compartmentalizing of our various identities that exist as one and many at once.

The confusion surrounding Crenshaw’s intersectionality is actually a good thing. I believe (and as far as I know, Crenshaw agrees) that we should sit, stay, and experience the disorientation that comes with allowing ourselves to be whole and complex; to embrace the many moving parts that make up our various identities.

I’m referencing some academic-heavy topics because I think there are important seeds of truth to be learned within. Underlying the arcane nature of Crenshaw’s work is a message that will help BK further its ultimate mission – to create a world that works for all.

If we subtract the fancy terminology, Crenshaw is just telling us that the process of social transformation will be long and difficult. In other words, if we begin by acknowledging how challenging this work is, we can unlearn the tendency to falsely simplify ourselves – and one another – as merely man or woman; black or white. We are all so much more than these limited categories; and though these categories in some ways shape our experiences and identities, each of our identities are interwoven in ways that are far too complex to quantify.

Quota-style diversity initiatives therefore cannot speak to our individual truths. Quotas and metrics are based on limited understandings of diversity and identity. And more often than not, they serve to strip all of us of our complex humanities – our unique histories, experiences, passions, and interests.

We at Berrett-Koehler are still learning and making mistakes. In fact, much of our progress requires moving through the disorienting process of change and self-critique in order to become reoriented; to become as inclusive as we aspire to be.


Shabnam Banerjee-McFarland

Araxi - I'm so impressed with how well you brought the concepts of intersectionality to life! I think Kimberle Crenshaw would be proud! 

June 28, 2016