Guest post on International Women’s day by Rachel Pierce, TWB community member.
To #BreakTheBias in the language industry, women will need strength, solidarity, and specialization.
International Women’s Day is a good time to assess where the language services industry is in terms of gender equality, and what we can do to advance the agenda.
State of the industry
By all accounts, business is booming. When COVID-19 put the planet on lockdown, the demand for online communication skyrocketed. Businesses had to upgrade their IT infrastructure to support telework, find novel ways to reach customers in their own homes, and rewrite policies and procedures encompassing “the new normal.” The industry grew more than US$5 billion from 2019 to 2021 and continues to rise (Redokun, 2022).
On the gender equality front, things don’t look so encouraging. Although 70% of linguists are women (CSA, 2017), the language services industry is owned and operated by men. Many of the leading language service providers (LSPs) have also become language technology providers. That means the sector is increasingly technology-driven (another field where women are underrepresented).
|Rank||Company||2020 revenue, in USD millions (CSA, 2021)||Ratio of women to men in executive positions|
|1||RWS Holdings||$972.78||1:8 (11.1%)|
|4||LanguageLine Solutions||$618||2:6 (25%)|
|5||Keywords Studios||$426.44||3:6 (33.3%)|
How LSPs can #BreakTheBias
As global companies, LSPs should be pioneers in supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Here are some specific measures company owners can take right away to improve:
- Perform gender pay gap audits and launch other forward-looking DEI initiatives.
- Be transparent and accountable. Publish the numbers. Gather regular feedback on what’s working (and what’s not) and adapt accordingly.
- Pursue partnerships to support women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to ensure that the future of machine-assisted translation is open to women.
How we can #BreakTheBias
Whether it’s nature or nurture, women tend to excel at empathy and emotional intelligence. Those are powerful traits we can leverage in our personal and professional lives. But there are other skills that may not come naturally or may take more effort to develop. We can expect change to come from three areas:
As women, we can meet other people’s needs but still protect and prioritize our own. In our profession, that means setting boundaries around how much we’re worth and what kinds of projects we’ll accept. Two specific points you may want to consider:
- Get comfortable talking about money. Translation is usually paid by the word, which can be confusing and vague. And once a project is over, it’s easy to underestimate how long it took and how painful it was (much like childbirth!). Track your time on every project and calculate how much you made per hour. Then you’ll know how fast you are at specific types of content and tools.
- You don’t have to say Yes. Let me repeat that: You don’t have to say Yes. Even when you’re struggling financially. Emotions are high when you’re worried about money, so you may be inclined to accept something unacceptable. Don’t believe that low rates are the industry “norm.” If an offer from an LSP feels wrong, it probably is. Review the details. Send them a polite email saying, “Thank you, but I can’t accept this.” You will feel empowered, and it will only make you look more valuable.
Solidarity is also strength — in numbers. Working together and supporting other women not only furthers our cause, but it also helps combat the loneliness and fear that can come with freelancing.
- Support women and minority owned businesses any way you can.
- Follow other women on social media and celebrate one another’s achievements.
- Join a mentoring program, which can be a powerful learning experience for new and veteran linguists alike.
- Find like-minded women to work with: partner up, join professional women’s organizations in your area, or form a translators collective.
- Share information, leads, and advice generously and without expectation.
Remember how I said business is booming in the language services industry? That means job prospects are strong. But the industry is changing and we need to be part of the vision.
- If you’re starting out in your career, think about your areas of interest and expertise. General subject matter is good for beginners and doesn’t require significant research. But machines can handle general subject matter, so that’s not where the future lies.
- Once you have experience, pick one or two specializations and develop your potential in those areas. Ask yourself what you’re good at and what you enjoy.
- Above all, don’t worry. You will not be out of a job in 10 years. Machines can’t translate literature. Machines can’t convincingly sell products and services. Machines can’t convey depth of emotion while interpreting for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. But you can.
Happy International Women’s Day!
- Redokun. “2022 Translation Industry Trends and Stats.” Retrieved from https://redokun.com/blog/translation-statistics
- CSA Research. “CSA Research Survey on Gender and Family in the Language Services Industry – Overall Findings.” Common Sense Advisory, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2017. Retrieved from https://csa-research.com/Blogs-Events/Blog/ArticleID/132/Gender-and-Fmaily-Survey-Reveals-a-Femal-Friendly-Industry-But-Theres-Room-for-Improvement
- CSA Research. “The Largest Language Service Providers: 2021.” Retrieved from https://csa-research.com/Featured-Content/For-LSPs/Global-Market-Study-2021/Top-100-LSPs
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Rachel Pierce is a US-based French to English freelancer using her 20 years of industry experience to improve the gender balance and make an impact — one word at a time. She is certified by the American Translators Association (ATA) and l’Ordre des traducteurs terminologues et interprètes agréés du Québec (OTTIAQ). She has a master’s degree in French Studies from American University in Washington, DC, and a bachelor’s degree in French Language and Literature from Mary Washington in Virginia. Rachel is a member of Translators without Borders’ volunteer community, the National Language Service Corps, and Women in Localization. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.