Women in localisation: professional development event

IMG_20151105_195002012Women in Localisation is an international non-profit organisation that meets once a quarter to brainstorm and present best practices and learn new innovative ways to improve localisation processes. The group has worldwide chapters and was founded in 2009 by Silvia Avary-Silveira, Eva Klaudinyova and Anna N Schlegel with the goals to drive the localisation industry and help Women advance in their careers.

Very recently the Catalan chapter opened here in Barcelona. Last Thursday Nov 5th, the first formal event took place at the Vistaprint offices in Poble Nou.

I was invited as a panelist together with Patricia Gómez (Head of Content at eDreams Odigeo) and Veronica Carioni (Senior Localization Specialist at Vistaprint). Maria Kania-Tasak (Strategic Account Manager at Sajan) was hosting the event as Head of the Catalan chapter and Muntsa Robinson (Sales Director at CPSL) was acting as presenter.

The event followed a questions and answers format around the concept of professional development. We, the panelists, gave answers based on our experience as translators that had moved on to different roles in the localisation industry. Then, there was time for the attendees —women and men from the industry but also translation students— to ask questions. Afterwards, we had the traditional “pica-pica” to get to know each other. I was pleased to see that we all found the event interesting, fun and, above all, necessary.

There will be more planned events about technology, professional development, sales, project management. But if you could not attend, I leave you here the set of questions asked and my answers to those questions.

By the way, pencil in Dec 9th as Women in Localisation will host a Xmas event in collaboration with GALA. The LinkedIn space will show more information. So, sign up to our LinkedIn Group and promote the organization among your translation industry friends. This is a non-for-profit organization so free space and sponsors are needed!

Question 1. If you are a translator/PM currently but want to move into different roles within the localization industry? How do to this? How easy/or hard is it? 

Answer:  One way is through formal training and the other one is through practice. For example, you can take a PM training course like PMP if you want do become a localisation project manager, or you might start by working as a project manager assistant or language coordinator or a related task, and then progress to project management. In the same way, you can do an MBA or an MA in Human Resources, if you want to work in these areas, or you can progress from a middle management position into higher positions through time, and in-house training.

There are also different types of approaches to a career. Some people decide what they want to do, or what they are good at doing, and they work towards these objectives. While others work in a position and they are then promoted to other positions than entail more responsibility.

It is good to know the options available in a career before making a decision. The more information we have on the options and on our own characteristics/personality, the better it will be to find a suitable position.

Question 2. What were the things/steps that you have taken in your careers to be where you are right now? What was the challenges? What did you find easy in this transitions?

Answer: My personal career path was ideal. I had the opportunity to work in an LSP (Language Service Provider) in Dublin with a group of international colleagues where I learnt a lot. I was reviewed, I was supervised so I improved exponentially from university. Then I went freelancing when the prices were high and work abundant, so I had the freedom to choose interesting projects, and learn a lot about technical translation. And then I went back to a large multinational to lead a group of Spanish translators, which was also an excellent experience. From then on, I progressed onto other management positions.

We could think that this is the natural progression, to train in an LSP and then move from there to a freelance position or to work at the customer side. But there isn’t really a cut out path that cannot be changed.

As I described earlier, in my case I was doing a job and I was promoted to other positions because my managers thought I could do the new job so I was not aware exactly of the steps that I was taking. In that sense, it was relatively easy for me, I progressed as I learnt more, and I kept on going.

However, and in retrospective, it was difficult to stop being directly involved with the translation aspect of localisation (as a translator and as head of the Spanish department in Dublin) and to become a resource and operations manager, where you are not actually producing something, a good, a translation. In other words, something that I perceived as a real thing, but to help to produce this and to lead people into achieving this.

Since this is a talk about women in localisation, I think being a woman and managing operations was an added difficulty. Sometimes, a woman with opinions and self confident in the job is perceived by many as bossy or authoritarian. Very quickly a woman is labelled. But these same characteristics are regarded in men as something positive, that people can rely on, a sign of intelligence, and therefore unproblematic.

Unfortunately, in localisation there are too many women doing different tasks, and looking towards men for approval or solutions, when some of the men making decisions have less knowledge or background information than the women in question. Maybe we, as women, have traditionally (and for centuries) waited to be invited to dance, rather than being the ones taking the initiative and leading the dance. But now, we are free to dance whenever we feel like it. We might overdo it  in the beginning, but it doesn’t matter. One thing I have learnt with age is that, at the end of the day, people care much less about what we do than we think, and that we are, on occasions, our worst enemies.

Question 3. What are the most useful skills you get from being a translator that you can apply to other jobs in the translation industry? What skills do you feel might be lacking or are not emphasized in translation education when entering the corporate world?

Answer: In my opinion, one of the most useful soft skills for all jobs is curiosity and interest. Translators have or should have these skills because they are an intrinsic part of the craft. These two skills will drive all the others, to learn new tools, to understand how workflows functions, to apply new knowledge to existing processes, to change things that do not work, to negotiate. In other words, you need to have a passion for what you are doing, otherwise, it will be difficult to be curious and acquire more knowledge.

Of course, if you have a translation background it is easier to talk to customers about localisation. I have done a lot of this, and I particularly like this aspect of the job.

I think as a manager you need an array of skills that, in general, nobody has taught you, and that you learn after making a lot of mistakes. The ability to analyse a problem fast, the ability to remain calm and transmit security (maybe without feeling secure), the ability to see the global picture and not to get sidetracked by small details or small talk, the ability to negotiate for the team, for the company, for the customer, the ability to empathise with people that might be very different from you, the ability to understand complex information from different sides, the ability to be friendly but not complacent, the ability to be logical but human at the same time.

Some of the skills that need development are financial skills. It is important to manage a project (time, cost and quality) but also to present your financial achievements and needs to higher management, and, without numbers, it is difficult to win arguments in the localisation industry.

Also, to develop an assertive communication, not just communicate but to do it well: when, how and where is needed. Communication can be very aggressive when you hide behind the email, Skype or any other digital medium. By being assertive, I mean discussing any topic with the facts and the emotions, but without an underlying message or attitude to win an argument and feed our own egos.

Question 4. Do you feel that women need different skills/abilities in the translation industry as opposed to men?

Answer: Certainly, if you are a woman you will also need endurance and assertiveness. As I mentioned before, maybe a woman will be criticised for who she is and not for what she does, and she will need to remain calm, be respectful and carry on. This does not mean not to listen to others, but to take all in, and then put together a strategy.

There are many things that are odd in Translation and in Localisation. For example, if you go to a translation event, 70% of attendees are women, but only 30% of the speakers are women. In Localisation this is even more pronounced. People making decisions in this industry are men, in general, but there are a lot of women doing the background work. We have become sophisticated secretaries, and this is something that we all need to change. We need to aspire to higher positions, because they are challenging, they are fun, and they can be done by women.

We need to believe that women have the same authority. We should find the male chauvinistic person that we all have inside and that we have acquired through our own exposure to society in general, and have a very serious talk with this person, and tell them: “You know what, I think I’m judging this person because of their gender, and not because of what she or he is doing and saying”

Question 5. What would you encourage and discourage the audience from doing as you are trying to grow and develop in the translation industry? Can you speak from your personal experience of examples?

Answer: I would avoid clichés, believing in them and perpetuating them. Always think outside the box, again listen to others but identify if this is only a cliché without any solid base. Just because everyone says something, it does not mean it is true. For example, women are good project managers because they are good at multitasking. It takes away the value of someone, a woman or a man, that are good at a job because they put the effort not because of their gender. Women are not good in Sales or in higher Management because they have children and they won’t dedicate this time to the company. Women are more emotional. These ideas are not helpful and we should be critical when confronted with them.

Another thing I would discourage from doing is to concentrate on the global aspects of this industry, rather on the task at hand. For example, sometimes it can be very frustrating to work in an industry so price driven, ruthless in some cases, but if you focus on this aspect (which is real, I’m not denying that) then it becomes difficult to focus on the project you are working on or on the positive side of the work you are doing. Endurance is very important here, too, but also to keep the perspective of the job in hand.

I have fought many pointless battles that only wore me down, and I achieved little. It is better to choose the battles carefully and try to achieve something, maybe a stepping stone to something bigger.

Something that I have learnt recently (apart from breathing correctly in moments of crisis) is to try and wear somebody else’s shoes. Try and understand where this person is coming from, what their fears are, why they talk to others in that way. By understanding them, it is easier to establish a dialogue.

Question 6. What was the biggest challenge for you in your translation career growth? Working for a certain company size? Being placed in a certain geography? Working with certain teams (technical, vs PM, and worldwide, remotely?)

Answer: As I mentioned earlier, the transition from translation to management was very hard for me. Also, I was not trained to be a manager in localisation, I learnt on the job by doing it. It took me a long time to take this step, I was offered managerial positions earlier on in my career and I always declined, and when I finally took this step I kind of regretted it immediately but then I felt I had to accomplish something.

Also, I should mention that working for multinationals and dealing with different cultures can be very challenging, but I always found this challenge as a enriching aspect although sometimes frustrating of the job.

It was also hard to be a woman, as I mentioned earlier, in middle management without the possibility of going that step further, the famous glass ceiling.

Question 7. Is there space to grow professionally in this industry here locally in Spain/Catalunya or do you have to go abroad?

Answer: It depends on the definition that we have of to grow professionally. It is clear that you can learn everywhere, in Barcelona, in Madrid, in Granada. Another thing is the desire to have an international experience. I personally think it is useful as a person, and professionally it allows you to see other work practices and to work with people all over the world.

But this depends very much on each individual. I would advise translators to travel but because this is what we do, we like cultures, we like to speak other languages, we are curious…or we should be in any case.

It is difficult for me to even begin to imagine my life without the years that I have spent in Ireland or in Barcelona. But I found that in my time you had to travel to go to international companies or to gain experience on site, but now you can do that here in Barcelona where there are quite a lot of international companies.

However, I still think that the international experience is just so valuable personally and professionally.

Question 8. Do you have any mentors or people in the translation industry or outside the industry that you look up to? Is it worth to have a mentor who can help you develop your career? How can you find one?

Answer: I don’t have one mentor, but I have always copied things that I liked from others. Observation is important to copy aspects that you like and to avoid those that you don’t like. I do think it is a nice thing to have a mentor, someone to talk to and that knows your talents and where you need to improve, but unfortunately this is not always possible.

I often ask my friends for opinion on my strengths or weaknesses so I can make better decisions or improve at work or in life.

I certainly think that people and mentors can help you develop your career and also that networking is a crucial aspect of any job. You can find a mentor at University, at the workplace,  a friend or even in this type of events.

Question 9: Where can you get more professional training to help you in career development? Translation conferences? Online workshops? Which ones? What has worked for you?

Answer: The practice itself has been very useful to me, learning from others and in the job.

The second easiest thing to do is to read a little bit what has been published not only in translation/localisation but in psychology or management, depending on the job at hand.

My doctorate was very useful to me, it taught me how to think better and how to express myself better. I did it at a time in my life where I needed new input from outside the industry because this industry is very focused on productivity and money. I wanted to think freely about something different and to do it in depth. It taught me a lot.

I have also done online workshops and conferences, both attending and giving talks, and I find all of these activities very useful because they help you structure your thoughts and reflect on what you actually do or think about the job. But also you share experiences with others, with people from very different backgrounds and they motivate you to go on.

Question 10: As a way to wrap-up and summarize, can you share top 2-3 takeaways for translation industry career development that you feel are important to the growth of women in the translation industry/here in Spain/Catalunya?

Answer: 

  • More women in higher management positions
  • Be empathic!
  • Women networking (like in these events) to feel empowered