Community lives: Women in Localization

According to “The Athena Factor,” a report published in the Harvard Business Review in 2008, women in tech often suffer career stagnation at the midpoint of their careers, a time when their male counterparts begin to move up. It is reported that women who do succeed regularly experience great difficulty in capitalizing on their success. Lack of support from senior management in defining a career path, including sponsorship and mentoring, was found to be critical in this failing.

It seems evident that not much has changed and the tech industries still prove a challenge for well-qualified women to enjoy employment on equal terms with their male counterparts. The education system admits women as students in technical disciplines and many go on to enjoy considerable success. However, graduating with a good degree is no guarantee of a good job with conditions to suit women. Any initiatives that aim to remedy this imbalance receive favorable publicity, but these are still inadequate in remedying failures that leave many female employees disenchanted and unfulfilled in their careers.

The struggle of women in tech, it is clear, goes on. Will it ever change? In fact, there are signs that it is changing. A number of organizations have been founded within the past couple of decades with the aim of enabling women to compete fairly in engineering, computing, IT and similar industries. Localization is no exception, with women, until recently, mostly having linguistic and support roles. However, this is rapidly evolving and an organization that is spearheading the promotion of women’s successful careers is Women in Localization. Its charter is to promote professional development, networking and continuous education among its rapidly-growing global membership of well-qualified, ambitious, very capable and highly-motivated female professionals.

The same year that “The Athena Factor” came out, three team members from VeriSign in the San Francisco Bay Area were getting together after work and exchanging professional experiences in the workplace. The three friends were Brazilian native Silvia Avary-Silveira, a veterinary doctor turned localization expert and currently the web globalization manager at Juniper Networks; Catalonian native Anna Schlegel, fluent in six languages and currently senior director of globalization and information engineering in NetApp; and Eva Klaudinyova, a foreign language teacher and professional linguist from Slovakia, now a senior localization manager working for one of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley. Their friendship continued even after they moved to different companies, and during regular dinners they discussed professional problems and supported each other in every way they could. The idea to form a network known as the “Northern California Women in Localization” was a natural next step. Their objective was to meet other female localization professionals to share ideas, knowledge and to help one another. They were focused on being local to ensure face-to-face meetings. Their motto at the time was “Think big, start small, scale fast.” During the following years, this is exactly what they accomplished.

Their strong friendship began a group that today has more than 2,000 members and a growing body of chapters around the world. Their goal is the same regardless of location: to provide their members with opportunities to meet locally; enable and support each other; and offer as many networking events as possible.

On a regular basis, Women in Localization organizes local events in which people in the field are invited to participate and network. Events can be a presentation on trends from an industry expert, a discussion on how to advance one’s career, or understanding the latest globalization tools. Typically, Women in Localization chooses a sponsor for each event to provide refreshments and potentially a physical space for the event. The sponsors are always recognized at the beginning of each event and some have repeated sponsorships year after year. Networking happens before and after the actual presentation, panel or discussion. Every new participant attending is greeted and introduced to a few people by the board members.

Let’s pause to consider how the traditional discipline of translation has burgeoned into localization with the aim of uniting all users with each other in all markets in a worldwide setting. The advent of personal computing and its development of artificial intelligence, global high-speed networks and mobile telephony are offering businesses and individuals unprecedented opportunities to communicate with each other. Information sharing has become so commonplace and so omnipresent that new paradigms of personal identity are being forged. The fact that what is communicated in one language is also enabled in a different language is thanks to technology and the skills of those who wield its power. What was essentially a cottage industry a few decades ago is now a business imperative of colossal magnitude.

With the above in mind, it’s easy to see how Women In Localization has grown from its extremely modest beginning to gain increasing momentum as an organization with an international presence. Furthermore, it is a mark of the founders’ success that their original goal of providing mutual support is portable across linguistic and cultural boundaries, empowering women to succeed in business on their own terms.

Over the years the organization has also managed to attract other successful women to its board. The board members are reviewed annually and their commitment has helped the organization move into its growth phase. Each board member has responsibility to drive a particular charter and goals are revised regularly. The compilation of strong leadership from the board has accelerated its position and reach. New ideas and access to more sponsors and resources have enabled Women in Localization to reach wider audiences, increase memberships and create new chapters around the world.

It has always been a goal of the organization to reach out to other women and where possible to mentor and advise them as they tussle their way through the business minefield. The challenge has been, however, to maintain the fluidity and informality of simply getting together while creating an organization that requires standards, regulations and that accommodates diversity. Consequently, Women in Localization expanded its membership to include women across the globe, encouraging members to meet in local geographies.

Eva Klaudinyova, one of the three cofounders, clarifies, “The organization’s purpose is to create a strong place for women to develop their careers in localization globally. It aims to provide an open, collaborative forum where women can share expertise and experience and get help to move forward in their careers. In the past few years we have received a lot of interest and traction outside of the United States and are now assisting enthusiastic women around the globe to open and manage their own Women in Localization chapters.” In 2014, there was an unprecedented increase in new member registrations, with 556 women joining. The first international chapters were launched, starting with Ireland. Shortly after, the Pacific Northwest chapter (including Vancouver, Seattle and Portland) was begun, followed by Germany and the UK, making a total of four new chapters in 2014. In 2015, the first Asian chapter was launched in Japan, to be followed by Catalonia in September, and Northeast US and China later in the year. The goal is still to provide the members with opportunities to meet locally and to enable networking and mutual support through events and local connections.

Japan is an interesting case in that given the nature of gender issues in Japan, women are still far from enjoying equality with men. Thanks to Women in Localization, the Japanese chapter offers female linguists the opportunity to exchange experiences and to strategize careers more effectively. It seems the problems Japanese women have experienced are very similar to those experienced by women elsewhere.

Whatever the challenges women face as a group, individual experiences are particularly instructive in understanding how Women in Localization is making a difference to women in the workplace. Although in the early days mentoring was performed in an informal way, today the organization has a program in place with a long list of prominent and successful women volunteering as mentors.

Anna Schlegel, cofounder, describes the new mentoring program: “Women in Localization has been a test-bed for mentoring since day one. We started the organization to network, mentor and encourage others to grow in our space. Each one of us is a natural mentor, we sit at cafés with newcomers, get emails from graduates who are looking for direction. In 2014, we kicked off a mentoring track that is speeding up the entry of women into our space. It is beautiful to see how women of all ages feel that they can ask anything to fulfill their empowerment.”

Di Jin describes how she attended her first Women in Localization event in September 2014 after losing her job as a localization project manager. That event was entitled “Globalization Speed Mentoring,” and she explains how she was able to obtain guidance on how she might best proceed in her search for new employment. As she relates, “Each table had one mentor and the ‘mentees’ cycled through the tables and could ask the experienced mentors questions relating to the station, or just general questions.” Meeting Schlegel, who was running the Globalization Strategies station, Di picked up tips on relevant reading material. They also discussed what Schlegel thought might be “good decisions in her career,” and she benefited from hearing about Schlegel’s experiences and the challenges she had faced in her career.

Taking heart from this meeting, Jin tackled the difficult task of job hunting. After many rounds of interviews she was faced with the enviable, but still stressful, decision between a highly respected localization vendor and a client-side program management position at a leading Bay area technology company. Both positions seemed exciting, with room to grow and both had comparable pay and benefits. She was torn and was having a hard time trying to decide. She decided to reach out to Schlegel and see if she had any advice that could help. Schlegel responded by helping Jin organize her thoughts and to draw up a list of pros and cons for each position. In the end, Jin decided to step out of her comfort zone and try something new, so she chose the client-side. Schlegel was also able to fill her in with some knowledge about the localization group in that company and when she discovered which company it was, according to Jin, “…she highly recommended it since she was familiar with the localization leadership there and knew that they were a well-respected and growing business unit. And I listened to her.”

Another localization professional who has been kind enough to share her experience with Women in Localization is Sheena Makhecha. She joined Women in Localization in early 2015 and immediately felt welcomed by all the members while attending her first event. She walked away feeling inspired, comfortable and a little more educated about localization from some incredibly strong and successful women, which seems to be rare in Silicon Valley. “I think the one moment I really felt how incredibly beneficial this organization is to me was when I attended a mentoring event and heard a member speak about her experience of wanting to find time for herself and her family. As she spoke of being a new mom and working incredibly long hours at her job, as this was expected of her, I immediately related to her since I was going through a similar experience as a new mom. At that moment, I thought to myself, I know here I am understood.”

Makhecha’s story shows the benefits of sharing our experiences as women professionals in the workplace and in our home lives. Discovering how others manage to combine these quite different spheres of life can be pivotal in directing younger and less-experienced women toward fulfillment. What Women in Localization has done from its very inception is open lines of communication that might not have been possible otherwise, except by chance.

Women in Localization is also partnering with other organizations to bring more opportunities to its members. Through these new partnerships, they will be able to offer conference discounts and extended opportunities for networking. During the LocWorld conferences, members are able to meet around a lunch table. With Information Development World, members get a discount to attend the conference and even if they do not attend, they can still visit the event session organized by Women in Localization. Another great partnership in development is with GALA, which will grant members access to free industry webinars. Moreover, Women in Localization is putting together an entire track at GALA’s New York conference in 2016. Members will have a conference discount and can submit their papers exclusively to the Women in Localization track.  Cofounder Silvia Avary-Silveira explains, “Through these new partnerships we are giving our members the chance to share their ideas, to leave their comfort zones and get some industry exposure.”

Some organizations that support women’s rights and empowerment fall into the trap of the “us against them” mentality. This is far from the case with Women in Localization. In 2013 the board voted to allow men to attend events and gatherings while enabling its women members as the organizers, members of panels and experts on topics. There is no hidden agenda of promoting women over men or any other gender inequality. On the contrary, Women in Localization stresses the importance of an all-inclusive equal workplace. As chairwoman Avary-Silveira emphasizes, “we are a women-focused and men-inclusive organization.”

The organic growth of Women in Localization from small, informal get-togethers into a dynamic organization that is truly helping women across the globe is praiseworthy indeed. The nucleus of Women in Localization is still the founders, but their wish to influence other women and assist them in forging their careers is resulting in an association with global influence that is poised to establish itself with solid credentials. A talented board is in place, a website is up and running, funding is being addressed, membership is accruing and consideration to give it an appropriate legal status is underway. The future for Women in Localization looks auspicious, for what started as a friendship became a group, which became an organization that is now a movement.