The RWA board of directors has received a lot of feedback from members regarding diversity, and the Diversity Committee issued its first report at last November’s board meeting. We would like to update and inform the membership regarding our efforts to increase inclusion for marginalized authors.
RWA’s mission is to advance the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy. Members have also indicated that education is a primary reason they join RWA and remain members of the organization. Section 4.2 of the Bylaws states that membership shall not be denied to adults because of race, color, gender, age, religion, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, or political affiliation.
The RWA board and staff are committed to ensuring we fulfill RWA’s mission and provide quality education to the best of our ability and on behalf of all of our members. To meet these goals, we are working on the following:
1. Expanding RWA’s Educational Opportunities
We are working on expanding our pool of qualified presenters and instructors for RWA workshops to ensure that we utilize the skills and talents of all members. Authors who have been historically excluded from markets due to their race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation have learned to market and sell themselves in ways that others have not had to. However, because of this fact, those authors lacked name recognition within RWA equal to their success. As a result, they were excluded from teaching workshops for which they were more than qualified. Having access to a wider pool of qualified instructors will provide better workshops overall and an even more valuable experience for all who attend or later listen to these workshops. Having more award-winning, best-selling, innovative authors teaching workshops is a goal that serves everyone.
2. Ensuring all members reap the benefits of conference attendance
Members make a significant financial investment to attend the conference and should reap all the benefits of attendance. Our disabled members have suggested ways we can improve their experience at the national conference. From captioning the conference in its entirety to reserving seating for disabled members at the front of workshops and keynote addresses, we are making simple changes to ensure all members benefit from conference attendance.
These changes will yield benefits for all members. For instance, conference captioning will eventually allow us to be able to do things like make workshops available for purchase on the website text-searchable, meaning that more content will be discoverable by all members. Reserved seating will result in better flow in the workshop rooms and fewer disruptions.
3. Affirming that all members should feel safe and welcome at RWA events
Most RWA members are generous and welcoming to all at RWA events. Unfortunately, the actions of even a small number of people reflect poorly on the organization.
The Diversity Committee fielded reports of incidents where black authors were explicitly told by white members that they were not welcome at the conference. We heard multiple instances where trans people were treated disrespectfully. There was an instance where a lesbian couple was denied a benefit offered to women in a straight relationship. This sort of conduct is not appropriate in a business setting.
RWA belongs to all of its members, and we hope that all RWA members join us in affirming our commitment to making our meetings and conferences a safe space for all authors.
4. Growing the romance market
The market for romance, while vibrant, can be expanded to offer authors the opportunity to write a wider variety of stories and readers the opportunity to enjoy them. Our efforts to advocate are vital in this regard. Over the last few years, many of the break-out successes in television and film, such as Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, and Orange is the New Black, have been inclusive. When we see people flocking to inclusive entertainment elsewhere in droves, it demonstrates that our industry is behind the times.
Unfortunately, the romance industry has a long way to go. At the Pocket spotlight at last year's conference, attendees were told that books written by or featuring African Americans would be referred to another imprint. At several publishing houses, black authors who have submitted books with white characters have had those books slotted into "African American" lines, and African American authors have also had their romances shelved in the "African American" section, even if the characters are not African American. Both practices diminish potential markets for books based on the author’s race.
Discrimination impedes the functioning of the romance market and sends the message to the world that romance is behind the times. Readers of romance should see that romance stories speak to a wide spectrum of experiences and concerns. All romance authors should see RWA as the place to build their careers.
The success of RWA authors in self-publishing demonstrates that there is substantial demand for inclusive romances today. We think you will find this article, on an author who hit the USA Today list with every one of her diverse, self-published new releases in 2015, demonstrative of the current state of the marketplace: http://indiereader.com/2016/01/36575/.
Inclusivity in the genre will attract more readers, grow the market, and bring new fans for all authors.
These steps will take years to implement, but it is important for our organization to do all it can to fulfill its mission and best serve all its members.
The RWA Board of Directors
Diane Kelly, President
Leslie Kelly, President-Elect
Renee Ryan, Secretary
Donna MacMeans, Treasurer
Cynthia D’Alba, Director-at-Large
Tessa Dare, Director-at-Large
Dee Davis, Director-at-Large
Alyssa Day, Director-at-Large
HelenKay Dimon, Director-at-Large
Kristan Higgins, Director-at-Large
Carolyn Jewel, Director-at-Large
Julie Kenner, Director-at-Large
Courtney Milan, Director-at-Large
Farrah Rochon, Director-at-Large
Damon Suede, Director-at-Large
Barbara Wallace, Director-at-Large
Shirley Jump, PAN Liaison
Priscilla Oliveras, PRO Liaison
Adrienne Mishel, Chapter Liaison