Penguin Random House Ditches Degree Requirements For Job Applicants, Opening Up The Industry

Great news for talented job-seekers who didn’t have the privilege of a university education: Penguin Random House have scrapped degree requirements for job applicants. The company have stated that it is looking for a more varied intake of staff, and that while university graduates will still be welcomed, it is broadening its search. The publishing giant’s decision follows in the footsteps of accountancy firms PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young, who recently removed their own academic requirements. The companies seem at last to be realizing that these specifications give an unfair advantage to students from private schools, whose education gave them more chances to succeed. While there’s no doubt many of these candidates are very hard-working and deserve the positions, it does filter out other bright, ambitious applicants who haven’t had the same opportunities.

Neil Morrison, the HR director for Penguin Random House, said that this move is part of their aim “to make publishing far, far more inclusive than it has been” — and it’s not coming a moment too soon. It’s no secret that the publishing industry is skewed against writers of color (particularly women of color), and this is a self-perpetuating circle not helped by the fact that the industry itself is overwhelmingly white (and male). But will removing the degree requirements help this? Well, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. There is still a significant race gap in education: in 2013, 40 percent of white people between the ages of 25 and 29 had a degree, compared to only 20 percent of Black people, and 15 percent of Hispanic people.

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Penguin opening up applications to people without degrees represents a significant move toward more diversity in the publishing industry. People who couldn’t afford the fees, people who were never encouraged, people who experienced bias in their applications: all these people are now in with a chance of getting into the career of their dreams. If more companies make this move, it might also reduce our cultural expectation that all people should go to university — which we all know is not terribly good advice.

I can’t wait to see what the next few years in publishing have in store. If Penguin really does open its doors the way that they’re promising, we may see a rather exciting shift in the books that are produced. Because we need diverse books, and we need diverse publishers to make that happen.

Update: It has been (very rightfully) pointed out that bias in the industry runs much deeper than the degree requirements. Removing these requirements is one positive step in encouraging applicants from a range of backgrounds, but it needs to be acknowledged that there is already a diverse applicant pool who aren't getting responses — and this is the core issue that needs to be addressed.