Juan Williams: Culture, Stereotypes and Bias

October 29, 2010

By Sean Oliver


Juan Williams was recently fired by NPR for making comments on the Fox News program “The O’Reilly Factor”, in which he stated:

“Look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. …You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. … But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

We can argue about whether or not he deserved to get fired, but I think it’s clear there is a valuable opportunity to learn from this incident.  I think he’s being totally honest in his statement; when he steps on a plane, and sees a passenger wearing a burqua, hijab, headscarf, abaya, dishdasha, etc., he gets genuinely nervous.

It’s worth noting that neither the 911 hijackers, the (attempted) Christmas Bomber, nor the Shoe Bomber wore any kind of “Muslim garb”; they were purposely trying to avoid anyone perceiving them as Muslim.  That being the case, where does Williams’ fear come from?

The media as of late has been relatively glib in their interchangeable use of the words Muslim, Islam, and terrorist.  Bill O’Reilly recently made the statement that “all terrorists are Muslims”, forgetting the long history that the United States has with terrorists of other religions and belief systems.  If we narrowly define terrorism as non-directly-state-supported bombings or deliberate murder of civilians or any non-military targets, I did a quick dig, and found historical examples of  US-born, Anglo Christian terrorists (Timothy McVeigh, Ku Klux Klan, Concerned Christians, Hutaree Militia, Army of God, various abortion clinic bombers), Anarchist and Union terrorists (various groups 1910-1925), mentally ill terrorists (George Metesky in the 1940’s and 50’s, Sarah Jane Moore in the 70’s, Unabomber 70’s – 90’s), anti-war, black-liberation, Jewish Defense League, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Left Wing, Chilean, Muslim/Middle-Eastern, Croatian, Granadian, and Japanese (attempted) terrorists.  No group has a monopoly on terrorism.

What Williams’ firing did was to highlight the necessity of having open and frank discussion about US stereotypes of Muslims, terrorists, and where Williams’ fears come from.  He doesn’t claim to be a victim of terrorism himself, nor does he appear to have lost family members in any terrorist attacks.  But, as he openly admits, there is a fear– likely a fear of “the other” — that is deep seated, and which Williams even recognizes in himself. Unfortunately, with his firing, and his new role as a commentator for Fox News, Williams himself is probably less likely to be the focal point of any efforts to delve a little deeper into the issue, though it’s still possible.

We like to think that a pundit who’s written books on the US Civil Rights Movement, as Williams has, should be “above” any kind of bias, but clearly they’re not.  Overcoming such a bias often starts with talking with actual Muslims about their lives and experiences… something that probably could have been easily facilitated by NPR.

In your organization, incidents such as this can be great jumping-off points for training around culture, stereotypes, and biases, but it may be even more useful to look into this kind of effort before your employee makes national headlines by speaking their mind in a public forum.


Diversity, Inclusion…and Integration

October 26, 2010

By Randall Stieghorst

IntegrationGermany’s Chancellor recently commented that multiculturalism had failed [in Germany]. However inappropriate or appropriate we might see this comment, it’s important to realize a very important underpinning of that statement: that societies are made up of people who, theoretically, share something in common and have a desire to live together, work together, and be together. Were it not for these shared desires, societies would fraction off into other small groups (as has happened throughout history with any political or cultural separation). We don’t necessarily allow strangers into our family just because they like our home better than their home, just like we don’t allow every interested candidate to become part of our organization just because they want to do what we do. There must be something that binds us, despite any differences, and that makes us a stronger organization.

Diversity and inclusion are invaluable to making any organization successful…but there’s another piece that’s also necessary – integration. When an organization is made up of different groups, the potential for conflict is magnified, as those groups will not always share similar ideas or principles. Organizations (and any group, really) are held together by the bonds of a common approach, common desires, and a common set of values. While every individual in that group may have his or her own set of values above and beyond those of the group they belong to, if they never integrate into the group, the group can never function as a unified whole.

An organization that is made up of people without some level of commonality is bound to fail, as conflict arises, motivations are lost, and the desire to be and work together falters. Again, whether we consider it appropriate or inappropriate, many immigrants to the US took innumerable steps to become part of American society (changing their surnames, learning English, etc.) to demonstrate their desire to adapt and succeed in a foreign place. If people assume that just because we share a common space (such as a city or an office) that we will get along, that diversity will add value, and that things will work wonderfully, then they are forgetting the natural human desire to bond with those who share something we do. Of course, integration requires positive intent from both the new members and the old members of the organizations or group. Without a sincere interest and authentic desire to integrate, only the differences will remain…and many will claim that diversity and inclusion have failed.


Why do I Need Internal Reviewers? How Can I Make my Internal Reviews Successful? 2 of 2

October 22, 2010

By Sean Oliver

Last time we talked about internal reviewers, why they are necessary, and some good tips for selecting internal reviewers. This week, we’ll delve into some more of the details, starting with: “What makes a good review process?” In other words, what should internal reviewers actually be looking for?  We’ve identified the following best practices:

  1. Word choice, local jargon
  2. Technical accuracy – are there industry-specific terms that could be improved?
  3. Branding issues – does it sound like the organization?
  4. Non-branding stylistic elements
  5. Legal issues (if necessary)

It’s best to advise internal reviewers to focus on the above and to avoid making stylistic suggestions (changes to translations that are based on difference of opinion, instead of actual incorrect word choice or translation); we do an exercise as part of our “Working with Translations” workshop, where we ask a set of English speakers to write a letter based on a specific message, but they get to choose the exact wording.  The participants in this activity have yet to arrive at the exact same terminology and message.  

Employing internal reviews and successfully implementing them are two different things.  There are several reasons why an internal review might fail completely:

  1. Reviewer does not have the right skills
  2. The review timeline is not realistic; no time allotted for the task
  3. Reviewer does not understand the importance of their task
  4. Reviewer does not receive a well-defined process or scope
  5. Lack of reference/support materials
  6. Changing assigned reviewer with each review cycle

Ideally, a reviewer should be provided with support and reference materials, including: Approved terminology list, glossaries, a style guide, or content in the source language.  As with all translation projects, the better organized all parties are the better results that will generally be delivered.  Agreeing upon one standard project flow and a standardized markup format are all best practices. Online systems that support review, “Track Changes” in any number of applications, or a marked up PDF (tools → Comment and Markup) are all good options.  Avoid marked up hard copies; this will take much longer for the translator to review and re-type, and they may misread hand-written notes. Also ask your reviewers to make specific comments, instead of general ones like “this translation is wrong”, or “this isn’t written in the correct tone”.

Once you’ve elected to use internal reviewers, taking certain steps will greatly increase the effectiveness and value-add of employing an internal review process:

  1. Define the goals of the review cycle
  2. Define the scope of review
  3. Define the review process
  4. Identify the right people and use them consistently
  5. Set realistic timelines
  6. Promote direct dialog between translator and reviewer (in their own language)
  7. Define an appropriate rebuttal process in case of disagreement

So, for translation buyers, how have you employed internal reviewers?  What does your process look like?  For translators, what has been your experience in working with internal reviewers, was it a good experience?


Why do I Need Internal Reviewers? How Can I Make my Internal Reviews Successful? 1 of 2

October 19, 2015

By Sean Oliver

Many new translation buyers don’t initially consider having their own internal, in-country employees review finished translations.  When the question is raised, they often seem perplexed… if they’re paying for translation services, then shouldn’t the end product be 100% quality assured?  If it’s generally a bad idea to have internal personnel (who are not trained translators) do the translation, then why would it be beneficial for internal staff to review the translation?

Internal reviews are an industry-wide best practice, and there are several reasons why this is the case.  First, then there is no way for the translator to intuitively know the company and country-specific terms that may be used , especially if a glossary of terms, previously translated content, a branding guide, or an existing translation memory isn’t provided to the translation vendor,. Internal reviewers can help fill in these gaps. Third, internal employees are in a better position to review translations for consistency with the organization’s branding, and last, laws and policies may differ from country to country, having in-country reviewers look at content can help mitigate the risk to the organization of disseminating information locally which may be incorrect, inappropriate, or possibly even illegal (i.e., asking for racial and ethnic information on a form being translated for EU audiences).

Even organizations that fully understand why internal reviews are a best practice, they are still faced with the challenge of identifying those internal reviewers from any number of native speakers in-country.  We’ve identified the following characteristics of highly successful internal reviewers:

  1. a native speaker of the target language
  2. currently lives, or has recently lived extensively in the country of the target language
  3. has good writing skills in the target language
  4. has a good understanding of the source language
  5. Is likely to properly represent the company’s brand and voice
  6. has an appropriate level of technical knowledge (relevant to the subject matter of the texts they would be reviewing)

Given that the end goal is to establish mutually-agreed upon terminology, and a tone consistent with other materials, it is usually best to leverage the same reviewers consistently rather than utilizing different individuals across different business units.

In addition, using multiple reviewers over time will inevitably lead to different opinions on the “best” translation and time, money, and effort will be spent by everyone involved re-visiting the same issues.  Using the same reviewers will help provide consistent feedback with each review, leading to few re-translations, and enabling less work for the reviewer in the long run – all of which will lead to improved rapport and trust between the translator and the reviewers.

And don’t forget that that “internal reviewer” is rarely a full-time role.  Internal reviewers have other tasks to complete, and as “Reviewer of Translations” was likely not part of their original job description, they may not always be motivated unless the importance of their task is communicated to them. Always allow extra time in your project plan for internal reviews, and make sure to be understanding about their other job responsibilities.


When Did You Choose to be Straight?

October 15, 2010

By Rebecca Parrilla


One of my friends posted this 3-minute video on her Facebook page the other day, and it grabbed my attention for two reasons: (1) I’m gay, and (2) we at LCW have been working hard on co-authoring the Cultural Detective® LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) package, and one of the LGBT core values is “Nature, not Nurture.”

Let me quickly back up a bit.  For those of you not familiar, Cultural Detective(R) is a powerful, practical learning tool for understanding cultures on their own terms.  Each Cultural Detective® package is centered around a particular culture’s core values (usually between 5-7 of them) that are the specific overarching values that tend to drive the culture’s behavior.  The values appear on the lens of a magnifying glass, so that learners can “see” through the culture’s ” lens” as they seek clues to “detect” (and thus understand) that culture.   The core values are (1)  derived by intercultural experts native to the culture, and (2) selected as the ones that are the MOST helpful to know in order for others to really get the motivations and complexities of the culture.

And since your culture is more than just your country of origin or heritage, there are Cultural Detective® packages about other cultural dimensions too – like Men & Women, Deaf Culture, Islam, Generational Harmony, and very soon – LGBT.

OK, back to the video.  So like I said, one of the core values in the LGBT Values Lens is “Nature, not Nurture” – which is the topic of the clip.  The creator has an interesting and creative way of instigating “a ha” moments for the individuals he interviews.

Notice the way people answer that first question (“Are you born gay or do you choose to be gay?”).  What type of words do they use?  How much time does it take them to answer? What did you notice about their non-verbals – their body language, eye contact, tone of voice, confidence?

Then compare that with the way they answer the second question (“When did you choose to be straight?”).  What words do they use? How quickly do they answer THAT question? What about their non-verbals?

And finally – what do you think is going on? How were these particular questions so effective in guiding these individuals to where the interviewer presumably wanted to steer them?  Do you think the way he asked the questions had anything to do with it?

The Cultural Detective® LGBT package will be published very soon, and we plan on embedding into the LCW program, “Engaging LGBT Employees”.  Stay tuned for more details!


Top 6 Pitfalls of Do-It-Yourself Cross-Cultural Training

October 15, 2010

By Rebecca Parrilla


Recently, a long-term client told us about some interest others had her in organization to try some “Do-It-Yourself” cross-cultural training. Their plan was to leverage the experiences of internal resources to help address some challenges that their U.S. operations are having when working with their India operations. They hoped to use people with experience traveling to and living in India, to facilitate dialogue and training about the culture where they used to work.  To be sure, tapping into the experiences of in-house resources is powerful in creating company change agents and helpful in leveraging limited budgets. That said, there are several pitfalls to this type of Do-It-Yourself strategy which may not be readily obvious:

1.       It can make issues worse.  Your resources may be sharing only the bad experiences that they had, or might be more prone to use stereotypes that perpetuate misunderstandings. When such resources are positioned as knowledgeable authorities, they can alarm those with less experience—often, needlessly. This happened to one of our clients, who used those returning from extended travels as Subject Matter Experts to give orientations to those newly departing. The particular people who were chosen ended up painting a needlessly harsh picture that also oversimplified real issues, and it took years for the company to recover when trying to recruit new SMEs to travel.

2.       They’re likely to provide one-off, anecdotal experiences. Are the experiences being shared representative of the typical or general experience of someone working with or in that country? Is what is being shared likely? Your in-house people may offer up their own methods for navigating cultural challenges that they faced, which is valuable indeed. But these methods may not be at all applicable for the situation facing a different group or individual in your company. Worse yet, what worked for one person may exacerbate tensions in a different setting—but your in-house resource’s limited experience may mean she does not know enough to share that.

3.       “Re-pats” (returning expatriate employees, or “expats”) have their own issues. That is to say, the re-patriation cycle involves moving away from one’s home culture for an extended period, and then readjusting after a significant time away. This cycle involves waves of adjustment issues and personal stressors that need to be carefully self-regulated and addressed with social and emotional intelligence. The re-pat experience also fails to mirror the realities faced by those who are working ‘virtually’ with another country (i.e. from a distance) or those who are working for shorter periods of time in-country. Thus, re-pats may not be in the best position to filter their experience and present neutral and constructive advice beneficial to those seeking solutions to their particular situations.

4.       “Blind leading the blind” Your resources will not typically have a wide range of tools to draw from, and may end up promoting the idea of developing new solutions to cultural issues when best practices (unknown to them) are already available. As a result, you will often spend precious time and resources ‘reinventing the wheel’ when proven cross-cultural navigations could have been deployed cheaper and faster.

5.       Employees will never really hear the target country’s POV.  Information will be filtered through the cultural lens of the speaker. Your in-house resource might succeed in neutrally describing individual behaviors and actions that they’ve witnessed, only to then assign their own ‘filtered’ judgments and interpretations to explain what happened—judgments and interpretations that are neither fully accurate or nor balanced in presenting the target country’s perspective.  Long-term, sustained success requires the ability to work knowledgably through the ‘whys’ behind each culture’s behavior, needs, or attitudes in order to build in navigations that connect to the different culture’s perspectives.

6.       Your employees will miss the opportunity to learn new things. You are dependent upon the limited experiences of in-house resources. They may be outstanding resources to tap for sharing insights and company-specific examples, but by trusting the training to professionals, you have an opportunity to learn what other organizations and experienced experts know, to benefit from a 3rd party perspective, and help participants learn to anticipate and be proactive long-term instead of simply reactive tomorrow.

If cost is a primary reason that your company likes to use in-house resources and deploy do-it-yourself cross-cultural training solutions then remember this! In celebration of LCW’s 10th Anniversary, we are proud to offer our signature “Navigating Cultures” workshop FREE to 10 different organizations each month during the year 2010. You needn’t be a client and you needn’t have a budget… you simply need to be interested in improving the productivity and intercultural competence of your multicultural workshop, volunteers, and colleagues. No commitment, no cost, no catch.


Translation Memories: to Share or Not to Share…

October 13, 2010

By Maria Fagrelius

Last week, a client asked us to translate some content using the same terminology as previously used by our client’s other translation vendor. I asked our contact if the other vendor had a Translation Memory (TM) to share, so we could easily provide consistency on the upcoming project. The client didn’t know the answer to this, and connected me directly with the other vendor, nothing unusual here since this vendor is not a competitor. We connected with the translation vendor via phone, and the conversation seemed normal until he asked me if LCW would share this client’s TM with them, in the reverse scenario.  Fair question indeed, and with a very easy answer: If this client would ask for their TMs, YES, we would share with them without hesitation. 

After this phone conversation, a few questions have been flying around my head that probably have very easy answers: What is the norm in the translation industry? Do freelancers and LSPs normally share their clients’ TMs with other vendors, if the situation presents itself as above?  Of course, I am not talking about sharing other client’s content; I don’t want to enter the privacy debate here, only content which belongs to that specific client and which consequently has been paid for by the client.

In LCW’s translation process, translators send us a bilingual file along with the corresponding clean file; in a way, they are sharing their work and their knowledge. During my 8 years of experience as translation manager only one translator has refused to share one of our client’s TM. It happened years ago before we were using the Translation Memory environment. When we implemented the technology, I asked this translator if he would share an export with LCW so we could create this TM in his language pair. He refused and said it was his property, encompassing years of work that he wouldn’t share.

At the time, I didn’t insist or question since I think (or thought, rather) it was  a valid point of view.  Why did this translator not want to share?  Maybe he was afraid of losing the client?  Perhaps.  As aligning documents, or even using the latest glossary- creating technology from already translated materials are ways around this problem, it seems moot in today’s environment.

Years ago, TMs and their content were indeed considered translator’s intellectual property; what about now? Is this the property of the LSP or the final client?  Is this part of the contract signed by both parties?  At this point, I would love to hear about your experiences and opinion about sharing TM knowledge with your clients.  Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


Generations and Privacy: Boomers, Gen X, Millenials, Net Gen

October 8, 2010

By Susan McCuistion

When the suicide of Rutgers’ student Tyler Clementi hit the headlines last week, people were shocked on many levels. Of course, there are huge issues around cyber-bullying and sexual orientation/identity. But what really struck me was the age of the people involved and what seemed to be the utter lack of understanding that some things were private. I was shocked to think that freshmen college students would think it was OK to video someone without their knowledge or consent, and broadcast that recording live across the web. Forget the fact that it was a sexual encounter of any kind; recording any activity of anyone without their knowledge and consent is not only an invasion of privacy, it raises ethical concerns, as well.

Technology has the ability to affect the way generations see the world, and every generation has had their “new” technology. When I was talking to my mom the other day about technology, she told me how it was a big deal when she got an electric washing machine to replace her ringer washer. But mom’s new washer was a convenience; she couldn’t hurt other people with it. Technology now is still about convenience, but it’s also about access to information. And, because of our celebrity culture, the access to information has turned into social networking and people broadcasting their own and other’s information, sometimes in quite inappropriate ways. The line between what is public and what should be private has been very blurred.

I’ll admit, I’m a Gen X’er, so my perspective is different from the Millenials or the Net Gen. I am on Facebook, and I recently joined Twitter. It’s been fun reconnecting with friends and family that I lost track of through the years. But sometimes the social networks are information overload for me. People post every thought they have, often not realizing that the information is now public, and that what they have posted may have repercussions down the road. And, as if it’s not bad enough that everyone has to know you ate a piece of pepperoni pizza for lunch, you can now share your location so everyone will know exactly what location of what pizza chain you bought it from. These announcements may be good for companies and name recognition and branding, but as a casual user, I’m left thinking, “Really?”

How do you think modern technology has influenced you and your generation? Where is the line between public and private?  When do you think information shared has crossed the line into too much information? I’d love to hear what you think.



6 Major Differences Between Intercultural Training and Diversity Training

October 5, 2010

By Monica Marcel

1. Cross-Cultural Training focuses on culture, or the values and behaviors learned and shared by a particular group (whether across countries, regions, industries, ethnic origins, organizations, etc.),  whereas diversity training often focuses on inborn characteristics (gender, skin color, sexual orientation, etc.) and only sometimes, on the cultural ‘experiences’ associated with these inborn characteristics.

2.  Cross-cultural training aims to create long-term sustainable mindsets and intercultural competence, by using portable models and replicable frameworks.  Diversity training tends to be about raising awareness and prescribing behaviors, but often stops short of answering the questions:  “What do I do with this awareness?” or ”What do I do when a slightly different situation occurs?” When diversity training starts to approach a more long-term and sustained skill set view, it starts taking on many of the attributes of the intercultural approach employed by LCW.

3.  Diversity training often focuses on bringing underrepresented voices and minority concerns to the table. Cross-cultural training by contrast frequently focuses on groups that are and have been well-represented, but perhaps just misunderstand each other (e.g. U.S. offices working with German offices, or Boomers learning to work better with their Generation Y colleagues.)

4.  Diversity training often has specific compliance, anti-discrimination and legal elements. This approach represents a particular challenge when an organization starts looking at ‘global diversity’ training, where what is legal or supported in one country is very different in another. Cross-cultural training rarely touches on these legal absolutes or constructs, however, and instead offers a much more transferrable approach for the organization looking at doing multi-country training and development regarding organizational differences.

5.  Diversity training often has a goal of producing a “fair and equal” outcome and overcoming discrimination.  Cross-cultural training often results in outcomes that many would say are neither fair nor equal; for example, varying pay and benefits by global location is a cross-culturally competent strategy LCW would advocate because it is rooted in and reflects the complexities and realities of local contexts.

6.  Diversity Training (particularly in the U.S.) comes from a tradition of social justice, and identifies groups which have been historically denied an equal seat at the table. Diversity training in this sense often  seeks to rectify social injustices.  Cross-cultural training by contrast comes from a tradition of exploring and understanding group norms for what is right or wrong in a given context (e.g. what ‘professionalism’ or ‘timeliness’ looks like in a given workplace or for a particular community). Cross-cultural training does seek to introduce the complexity of cultural perspectives but stops short of advocating a particular position or need of one culture compared to another. Two videos that contrast this last point are:

a.  Jane Elliot’s “Blue Eyed/Brown Eyed” Experiment, historically used in diversity training where the goal has been to educate about unconscious and even conscious bias and discrimination in the U.S.: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCjDxAwfXV0

b.  “The Multicultural Meeting”, a video frequently used in cross-cultural training by LCW when the program goal is to build intercultural competence around cultural differences globally: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLTvAOijPKs

In fact, there are many things that good diversity training and good cross-cultural training share—come back for a future blog post on just that topic!


Globalization, the US Economy, and American Culture Change (Part 2 of 2)

October 1, 2010

By Sean Oliver

…Really, it’s a question of dealing with reality at this point: globalization has changed America, and there’s no turning back.   America isn’t going to deport 12 million undocumented workers, or stop needing China’s rare earth metals to build tablet PCs and iPhones.  Yankee Stadium isn’t going to start refusing Japanese language ads.  American companies aren’t going to ignore cheap labor pools if they’re available overseas.  The rules of the global economy have benefited American for more than half a century, and now they’re changing.

A great analogy can be found in the Midwest:  Once the core of the American economy, based on steel, manufacturing, automobiles, and agricultural products, the Midwest has fallen on hard times.  Steel and manufacturing can barely compete with newer, more efficient plants in developed countries, or cheaper, unregulated factories in developing ones.  Agriculture is still big, but in the “race to the bottom”, many small family farms have been absorbed by large agribusinesses (which ultimately employ fewer people).  Cars are now built where they’re likely to be driven, as transportation is one of the biggest controllable expenses for auto makers.  Unemployment has topped 15% in cities like Detroit.

Chicago is essentially the “capital” of the Midwest, so why are there still jobs in Chicago?  Why hasn’t the economic crisis hit Chicago like the rest of the Midwest?  Part of the answer is diversification:  Chicago still has manufacturing, steel, autos, and is a hub for the distribution of agricultural products, but it also has tech, banking, finance, major universities, tourism, and lots of things to do for people with disposable income.  It has expats and immigrants from nearly every country in the world; Chicago’s strength is its diversity, both in terms of the economy and the ethnic groups and cultures that make up its populace.  Where would Chicago be if actions were taken to discourage, rather than encourage immigration?  If the local populace was bent on retaining the “traditional” Midwestern economic base?

America’s economy and culture are going through an intense period of increased interconnectivity with the rest of the world, and that trend shows no signs of reversing.  America can either accept the inevitable changes to try to foster success, or can do what it’s always done, probably with diminishing results.