International Book Award 2019 English

Our book awards and unconscious bias in the business-book ecosystem at play

Unconscious bias

Last week at the Frankfurt Book Fair we celebrated the winners of the 19th annual getAbstract International Book Award. We’re proud to shine a spotlight on the best and brightest in business writing, and to recognize some of the many incredible authors whose ideas and innovation power the summaries we deliver to business leaders and decision makers around the world.

And after we handed out this year’s award, it was one of those authors who pointed out something we’re not proud of. She drew our attention to the fact that over those 19 years, nearly all the recipients of our English-language award have been men. While that certainly wasn’t intentional, it’s also not OK, and we’re glad to have the opportunity to start a conversation about it.

We could take the easy route and blame it on the fact that most business books are still written by men. But that’s a simplistic response that ignores what that says about the wider business-book ecosystem. If we’re examining this critically, the gender disparity within that ecosystem that’s manifested in our award winners should prompt us all to ask questions about whether there’s enough diversity among the ideas and perspectives those books (and our summaries of them) deliver to boardrooms and C-Suites.

For example, another uncomfortable fact about books from women authors is that they’re priced 45% lower than books by men on average, which no doubt influences how much perceived value they deliver. (To be clear, the challenges of gender imbalance in business extend far beyond books — only 2.2% of VC funding in the US goes to female founders.)

Yet the research is clear that companies with more gender diversity on their boards perform better, suggesting that exposure to more diverse thinking and perspectives is something everyone in business should be seeking.

At getAbstract, our mission is to provide knowledge that helps people make better business decisions, and we acknowledge that comes with a responsibility to select content from as wide a range of perspectives as possible. Books that challenge us, that open our eyes to new perspectives and that show us new worlds, are exactly the books we should all be reading. These are the books that help us grow and learn. 

It wasn’t easy to hear an author we respect challenge us on the gender imbalance among our book award winners, but we’re grateful that she did, because it’s forcing us to take a long, hard look at how we select those awards. We’re committed to re-examining the way we select those winners, and will start by having thoughtful conversations with our employees, and with our partner publishers and authors. Going forward, we must evaluate how the world sees business, not just how one cultural group sees it. And because the world is constantly changing and evolving, so too must we.

Andrew Savikas

Andrew Savikas is President of the US subsidiary of getAbstract, helping organizations use knowledge and insights to make better decisions. He also serves as Chair of BISG, which works within the publishing industry to support research, standards, and education in best practices. Andrew previously held executive roles at Safari Books Online and O’Reilly Media.

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