Inclusion in Every Language
A look at Toppan Digital Language’s
philosophy on diversityeting

By Andrew Warner

There’s a well-noted diversity problem in the language services industry.

Now, to be fair, it’s not just the language services industry. Women, LGBT+ people, and disabled people tend to be underrepresented in leadership across industries — as of the beginning of this year, just around 10% of the companies on the Fortune 500, for example, were led by female-identifying CEOs (despite, of course, making up half of the world’s population). And the number of people of color in leadership positions across the Fortune 500 is similarly low — about 12% of board seats were filled by men of color, while just 6% were filled by women of color.

While hard data on diversity in the language industry is notably tough to come across, a handful of indicators suggest that diversity in the language industry is also lagging. Meanwhile, as MultiLingual Media’s CEO, Marjolein Groot Nibbelink pointed out in the magazine’s “Top 30 Women in the Language Industry” special earlier this year, 60.6% of translators are women — but men still tend to dominate public discourse within the industry.

That’s not to say there haven’t been strides to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) — language service professionals have by and large been quick to champion a DEI-forward philosophy. For members of an industry whose very purpose is to break down language barriers and embrace multilingualism, it makes sense that language service professionals would advocate for creating diverse and equitable workplaces.

“Having a diverse team is, quite simply, good business, and I believe the most intuitive business leaders have always recognized this,” said Christophe Djaouani, president of Toppan Digital Language, a London-based LSP. “What’s exciting for the localization industry now is that it’s becoming easier than ever to reach a diverse talent pool.”

Djaouani says diversity has been a core principle at Toppan Digital Language since the company was founded in 2021 — a focus that he believes has helped the company build a strong team with superb problem-solving skills. In a little bit more than two years since the LSP was founded, the fast-growing company has positioned itself as a successful global business with diversity at the forefront.

We caught up with the folks at the young LSP to learn a bit more about Toppan Digital Language’s philosophy regarding DEI and how they’ve worked to foster a diverse and inclusive space. While the company’s leadership admits that things aren’t perfect, diversity remains a core founding principle that they strive to promote in every aspect of their work.

“We feel that diversity in action is an important part of demonstrating the integrity of the company and will be a key factor in our success,” Djaouani said. “If you … put a problem in front of that team, this is where their diversity of experience, nationality, culture, location, language, gender, age, ability, disability, education, and personality, combine and the real magic happens. The solutions they produce are simply not possible within a more homogenous team.”

Unlike at many other companies, the C-suite at Toppan Digital Language has an even split between male and female leaders, with the company boasting a 50/50 ratio. And throughout the entire company, Toppan Digital Language more closely resembles the gender ratio of the overall translator workforce. 70% of the company is made up of women, indicating a strong commitment to creating a welcoming work environment for women in the industry.

Since language services, at least generally speaking, aim to improve accessibility and foster global communication, it seems like a no-brainer that diversity would be a key value for any company providing these services. That inherent sense of cultural, linguistic, and national diversity has placed the language industry as a sort of diversity leader, said Anna Gargiulo, Toppan Digital Language’s chief sales officer.

“The industry attracts a culturally and linguistically diverse group of people and engages with customers whose primary goal is to communicate across a variety of languages, in culturally sensitive and relevant ways,” she said. “While I think more can be done in this space, … as an industry, we can be proud of our distinct role in supporting and promoting cultural diversity.”

A newcomer to the language services industry, Kenny Yeo, the company’s vice president of global marketing and brand brings a bit of an outsider perspective to the industry. Yeo says the diversity of the language industry — that is, the blend of nationalities and languages that the industry attracts and embraces — has allowed him to feel at home in his new field of work.

“As someone who has lived in five cities across Asia, the US, and Europe, I quickly found myself really enjoying the diversity within the language services industry, to which I am a newcomer,” he said. “It is one of the main reasons why I enjoy my job thoroughly — I tangibly feel a culture of belonging.”

Pointing out the linguistic and national diversity of Toppan Digital Language’s senior leadership, he notes that the industry by nature attracts a mixed crew of folks from all sorts of different backgrounds. And like Djaouani, Yeo says those varied perspectives that people from different parts of the world bring are key to creating a team with a good mindset for problem-solving.

Despite the industry’s natural tendency to attract a diverse workforce, Yeo has identified areas where the industry could stand to improve. In particular, he sees gender as an area for improvement — the largest LSPs in the world, he’s noticed, tend to overrepresent men in their company leadership when compared to their employee base.

Gargiulo agrees. She says more work is necessary to ensure that people from diverse and historically underrepresented backgrounds are given a chance to serve on LSP boards and within their C-suites. She adds that more tech-centric areas of the industry lag a bit behind the rest. Because diversity within the workforce doesn’t necessarily translate to diversity within the highest rungs of an LSP, Yeo says he can’t help but wonder if some LSPs tend to “hire for diversity, but then promote conformity.”

“Diversity within the language services industry is, therefore, an intriguing subject for me,” he added. “The ‘talk’ is convincing clients that their audiences are way more multilingual and diverse now and should buy more translation and linguistic services; the ‘walk’ is in showing that the LSP holds this belief internally too.”

Conversations around diversity tend to center themselves on race and gender — but Gargiulo says it’s important to also think about how companies can embrace and support employees from other marginalized backgrounds as well. Given the industry’s focus on accessibility — linguistic or otherwise — she believes it’s also important to support not only customers with disabilities, but also to hire and support employees with disabilities.

Alexandra Jarvis, Toppan Digital Language’s chief strategy officer shares a similar position — while plenty of companies talk the talk, she says many lot of them don’t actually walk the walk.

“When I see some companies, particularly in my previous industry of financial services talk about diversity, it’s hard not to fall off my chair laughing because the words do not match the reality. It’s therefore important to us that we demonstrate this value through action,” she said.

For Toppan Digital Language’s part in walking the walk, so to speak, Jarvis says the company has made an effort to diversify its leadership, while also being cognizant of how different cultures and localities approach the topic of diversity. She says it’s important to remember that in such a highly global industry, companies also need to be aware of the cultural and regulatory differences that exist in different parts of the world.

For instance, privacy regulations in Europe can influence the ways in which they collect and report internal data on diversity and inclusion. As a company operating largely in Europe, Toppan Digital Language doesn’t record its employees’ ethnic backgrounds, which would be illegal throughout many countries in Europe.

“Sometimes the types of diversity-related questions we might be asked about our business or supply chain, say by a US customer, cannot be answered in a European context,” Jarvis says. “The approach we take is therefore one of creating the environment in which our teams have opportunity and career mobility.”

Ultimately, the importance of diversity is hard to overstate — especially when it comes to doing business in an industry that quite literally depends on promoting linguistic and cultural diversity.

As Djaouani points out, a diverse team brings a range of ideas and approaches to the table, and this can lead to better decision-making and innovation. Plus, a diverse environment that aims to respect all identities is a key aspect of making sure that employees from different backgrounds feel welcomed and comfortable in their workspace.

“Diversity provides immense value to a business that goes far beyond box-ticking compliance,” Djaouani said. “The more diverse a team the stronger it is, bringing a range of ideas and approaches to the table. Once that team is united around a common mission, they do, in my experience, become a high-performing team.”

Andrew Warner  is an assistant editor and staff writer for MultiLingual Media.



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