A few weeks ago, I posted an emotional response to media reports about TransPerfect, a very large company damaging the reputation of our industry. It is also a member of ATA, an association dedicated to upholding ethical standards. My suggested solution was to remove corporate members, thereby leaving ATA to solely represent interpreters and translators. The comments received through different social media channels were quite surprising to me. Three quarters of the responses strongly opposed my suggestion! In view of the foregoing, I share some of those thoughtful and valid reasons. Furthermore, I’ll type my latest conclusions after considering everything.
Reasons for not splitting
Below are a sampling of colleagues’ comments. They represent the majority of responses. Debate from both sides was very engaging. Please read the opposing view.
- I’m glad that ATA is also home for larger companies. Plus, who is “agency” and who not? Sometimes obvious, often not.
- I like the status quo. How to define the split? Companies with in-house translators OK? Freelancers who subcontract OK?
- I support the idea of association having members from both ends of the spectrum. What I think is missing in the case of ATA is action as mandated by its bylaws, as you mentioned Jeff.
The exchange of knowledge and opportunities that can take place at the association level between players at different ends of the spectrum can be truly beneficial. Agencies can help beginners by showing them how to prepare a resume the way THEY the agencies slike, they can also offer internships, mentorships, help freelancers become more business savvy, etc. Freelancers can share their concerns with agencies, comment on experiences and help streamline processes between T&I professional/Agency, etc.
There is room for interaction and dialogue. There is no room for inaction. That’s the real problem.
- I feel that, in the future, professional associations in our industry will need to have agencies on board to have any real clout. Speaking for an entire industry will always be better than speaking for one section of it.
- I don’t see associations as representing a group of workers. Actually, in terms of translation & interpreting, associations bring together groups of businesses, each of which gets to pick their clients and their terms. To say that agencies are more powerful than freelancers is a bit of a misnomer as we are all in the position of saying yes or no to whatever work we like. Sure, agencies might have more clients and more financial clout but the world is big enough for all of us to find work. We are not their staff and they are not the enemy.
Of course, all members of any professional association must be held to a code of conduct but surely the need to vet applies equally to everyone. Having a freelancer member who abuses colleagues and does bad work is surely just as damaging as having an agency member whose business practices are shocking.
- I’m troubled by your post on your website practically advocating that ATA be split into a translators’ and a translation companies’ organization. You may be aware of the fact that this idea is not new and has been around since the foundation of ATA. In fact, the “founding fathers,” one of whom was a personal friend, were considering separate organizations, but the idea was rejected every time it came up, for different reasons. First, we are stronger if we’re united and can speak on behalf of all stakeholders in the profession. Second, it is not easy to tell apart translators and owners of translation companies. Aside from the purely commercial outfits managed by lawyers and businesspeople, the typical translation company is owned and managed by translators, usually successful ones who at one point became unable to handle the work flow and decided to farm out part of it to trusted colleagues. Many working translators have incorporated for tax reasons. Which category do the belong to? Note that, in order to hold office in ATA as a member of the Board, committee chair, or division administrator, you must be an active member, i.e., a translator, having passed a certification exam or peer review. During my time on the Board, we’ve had one or two Board members who were also company owners (I was one of those), but the majority has always been “pure” freelancers.Currently the only translation company owner on the Board is Faiza Sultan, who is, of course, also a translator. Thus being, any talk that the ATA Board represents the interests of company owners is pure nonsense. While in many issues translators and translation companies have diverging or opposing interests, we’re all parts of the same industry and have much more interests in common. Being able to talk to government or the media with one voice about language and translation issues, lends more strength to our position. Even when we disagree in certain issues, it is better if we can discuss those within the same organization. For all these, and possibly other, reasons, I’m strongly against splitting ATA
The arguments for maintaining corporate membership
1. ATA should represent the entire industry (we are stronger united; representation of all stakeholders in the profession).
2. Knowledge exchange between companies and freelancers can be beneficial.
a. Companies disclose their needs, provide education, offer internships, mentorships, and assist freelancers become more business savvy
b. Freelancers disclose their needs and concerns, and streamline processes.
3. The association needs agencies in order to have clout.
4. Agencies are not the enemy.
5. Code of ethics should apply to agency and freelancer alike.
6. It is difficult to distinguish translators and owners of translation companies.
7. The majority of board members are interpreters and not company owners.
If I missed something important please let me know.
My position at this moment
Both sides of this issue have merit. Notwithstanding those arguments, the American Medical Association does not permit durable medical equipment companies to join. This leaves me undecided, leaning towards my original opinion. However, during this journey, it is clear that I am a minority. There isn’t enough support to eliminate it. One commenter recognized that although conflict was undesirable, the pros outweigh the cons. That seems to strike a balance with my struggle on this issue.
A common thread among respondents is apparent inaction regarding accountability. No one is happy with the news spotlight on TransPerfect tainting our professional reputations. The behavior of the owners warrant removal as an ATA member, regardless of whether any particular member brings a complaint. That is just public knowledge now.
Those who adopt my personal point of view believe that the presence of corporate members makes it politically difficult to take punitive action on ethical misconduct. This is the reason for inaction. If there is another logical explanation, I would love to ponder it.
Watching our industry reputation tarnished was always the real subject for me. The reaction, however, centered on the subject of splitting. I am a realist. Without majority support for elimination of corporate membership, the next step for me is to seek a solution upon which the majority can agree. Compromise allows each side to gain a measure of victory. People often take a rigid stance on problems. Sometimes, the answer is found by approaching it from a unique angle that hasn’t been considered yet.
Perhaps contracting a company to evaluate ATA’s processes and governance, report its findings, observations, and recommendations for improvements, can satisfy the membership. This would remove the emotional aspect of the discussion and work with facts.
I feel honored because rarely do I see bloggers get such large response from an opposing point of view. Most people who respond to my blog are like minded and tend to agree. The fact that so many disagreed with me tell me that there is enough level of trust and comfort with me to speak your mind.
Thank you for that! I love to be challenged and to be forced to think things out. I struggled to refrain from responding to everyone right away. I didn’t want to be combative, and I truly wanted to hear everyone’s opinion. I still do, so if you have anything new to add, please share it with me.