International Women’s Day and celebrating women in translation

Written on 8 March, 2023

Today is International Women’s Day, an event recognising and celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women across the globe. It is a day designed to elevate the visibility of women forging change and thriving in the workplace, and where equality is empowered and applauded.

The idea behind International Women’s Day (IWD) blossomed at the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen in 1910 and was first celebrated on 19 March in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, before an agreement was made for it to be celebrated on 8 March every year. Over a million people attended rallies advocating women’s rights to vote, work, vote, learning opportunities, to hold public office and more.

International Women's Day

Over 100 years later, #IWD2023 embraces equality and the translation industry is an excellent example of how an industry has evolved to become more inclusive and, here at least in the UK, it is largely female led, giving women equal opportunities to grow and succeed.

Hannah Stacey, Head of Operations at Surrey Translation Bureau (STB), observes:

I love that our industry is so naturally diverse: as linguists, we embrace different languages, cultures and backgrounds, so I’ve never felt that my voice was less valid or that I’ve had to work harder to be successful. It’s how every industry should be.

A brief history of women in translation

Pre 20th century, there were stark imbalances in the opportunities and rights to work for men and women, and the translation sector was no different. According to the book, Translators through History:

“While translation was seen as one of the few socially sanctioned ways of writing open to women during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, (…) women were restricted to the translation of religious texts [and] when the work of a woman translator was published, it was often anonymous.”

Even with the restrictions and lack of opportunities, a few inspirational female translators have stood out over the years, who worked on complex genres, such as classical and technical texts that only men were translating in their times. These outstanding linguists of the past included:

Women in translation

The translation industry today

In more recent times, translation has become an extremely popular career choice for women, especially with girls faring far better in language studies than boys. According to a report from British Council, girls are more than twice as likely as boys to achieve a pass in GCSE languages. It further reveals that the gap is so pronounced that gender is a stronger predictor of success in languages than a pupil’s level of disadvantage.

According to a report published by the European Union, the translation field in Europe is over 70 percent female. There might be several reasons for it: a natural inclination towards languages, flexibility around the family that freelance translation work often offers, the nurturing nature of the job, or the equal opportunities that the industry offers. Recent studies have revealed that language sector is also one of the very few industries that largely offer equal remuneration for men and women.

Furthermore, there is a general sense of camaraderie between the industry peers where the focus is on knowledge sharing, making it a welcoming environment for newcomers:

I strongly believe that I am where I am today thanks to the female role models in my life and my fellow colleagues and line managers who have supported me and helped me to develop my skills and advance in my profession. The translation industry is an extremely diverse, inclusive and welcoming place and I am so grateful for that. For me, International Women’s Day is about continuing to push for equality and helping to inspire and support the next generation to access opportunities and show them that anything is possible!”, comments Chloe Jones, Translation Team Leader at STB.

Marzia Formica, STB Project Manager, also shares similar thoughts:

I’ve always wanted to work with languages and use them for something meaningful, whilst continuing to expand my skills, and this is what I found in the translation industry. I feel valued and supported and I hope young women who decide to go into a career in this industry will share similar experiences.”

At STB, 70% of the in-house team are female and 66% of the Company’s translator pool are women. The Company embraces inclusivity and diversity in many ways, maintaining equality when it comes to renumeration and opportunities for career progression, as well as equal opportunities in the workplace that mean women can thrive. Many working parents have taken up the option of flexible hours to fit work in around childcare responsibilities, for example, and the Company’s guidelines on female-centric conditions, such as endometriosis, and managing employees through the menopause speak volumes about STB’s vision to #EmbraceEquity.

 

From everyone at STB, here’s wishing all of you a Happy International Women’s Day!

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Written by Marya Jabeen