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Research Finds that Women Excel in Localization Positions

By: Arle Lommel (Senior Analyst)

16 August 2017

It was the memo heard around the world, the one that led Google’s CEO to cut short his vacation to deal with a firestorm of criticism, and the one that reignited the perennial and fiery debate about sexism, women’s role in the tech industry, and political correctness. The document (available here in its entirety) laid out the case that Google’s focus on diversity in hiring and promotion was ultimately harmful to the company.

In the author’s opinion, it creates an “echo chamber” of political thought that excludes voices that disagree with progressive-leaning U.S. politics. As far as such things go, it would have been just another minor salvo in long-running culture wars, but it went on to argue that, in general, women are not as suited as men for certain kinds of software engineering jobs and that promoting female employees in these positions was harmful to the company. The statement quickly led to the firing of its author, James Damore

Despite Damore’s statements that he was arguing against gender essentialism in favor of treating job applicants as individuals and that Google could be more responsive to the strengths of women in the field, media coverage focused on his claim that women were, in general, biologically less capable of meeting the demands of engineering positions. Condemnation of the memo was swift, as were counter-condemnations by conservative media, which claimed that Google engaged in “witch hunts” to root out opinions counter to the company orthodoxy. 

Lost in the discussion was a focus on data about men and women. Do women underperform in engineering positions? Are men better suited for that sort of work? CSA Research covers language services, including localization engineering, a field closely linked to software engineering. Our recent quantitative survey on gender and family with almost 2,200 respondents in 71 countries and our long-running surveys of language service providers suggest that, if anything, the opposite may be true: Women often outperform men in localization. In particular, we find that: 

  • Localization companies helmed by women are significantly more productive. We found that employees at providers with female CEOs bring in 37% more revenue per employee than those run by men. This difference persisted across all company sizes we examined. Women CEOs are also much more likely than their male counterparts to have an operations background, meaning they succeed precisely because of their technical skills in the field. They also tend to be better educated and to have a greater knowledge of the technical side of the field, while male leaders are brought in because of their business background.

  • Roughly two-thirds of language professionals are women. They also comprise 52% of individuals with “localization” in their job title. This is the most engineering-centric portion of the language industry. Localization companies are generally small companies that cannot afford to engage in the sorts of “social engineering” of which critics accuse large corporations. If women were not successful in this area, they would not stay in it because small providers would not tolerate poor performance. In direct contrast to the perception that they are less suited for these positions, majorities of both men and women in our survey see women as having more positive qualities as employees than men.
  • Women in localization experience an overall pay and advancement gap. In general, women in our gender survey earn 18% less than men (14% for full-time employees). More often than not, they are the ones who put their careers on hold to deal with family matters and are much more likely to hold freelance and entry-level positions. Our research shows that it is socially acceptable for men to take on extra work responsibility to deal with family problems, but women feel pressure to cut back and stay in the home during such times. As a result, women often find themselves excluded from many leadership roles and their percentage decreases as they move into executive and senior management positions, even though they outperform their male peers in these roles.

Women translators and localizers do not somehow take jobs away from men in the sort of zero-sum game Damore seemed to take as a given. As an Arabic proverb says, “One hand alone cannot give applause.” Instead women increase the capability and scope of the industry. Including them is not political correctness, but a necessity for any business that hopes to succeed in the long run.

For more information on CSA Research’s survey on Gender and Family in the Language Services Industry, please visit http://commonsenseadvisory.com/gender. A special thanks to GALA and Women in Localization for their assistance with this research!

Arle Lommel is a senior analyst with Common Sense Advisory. He is a recognized expert in quality processes and interoperability standards. Arle's research focuses on technology, quality assessment, and interoperability.