The only woman in the room

The only woman in the room

I have recently published an article on being the youngest person in the room for AIIC’s blog. After this publication, many asked what it is like to additionally be the only woman in the room, as unfortunately often still is the case in consecutive interpreting for both politics as well as industry.

Although the situation has improved already, there are meetings where I am asked to interpret for only male participants. In addition to having to proof yourself because of your rather young age and presumable lack of experience, you also stand out for being the only woman in the room.

Fighting the stereotype

There are the usual stereotypes, where delegates assume you are responsible for the coffee only, or compliment you on your pretty dress – however, this has never happened to me. By positioning myself close to the client, usually the most important person in the room, I make clear that I play a role for this meeting. A confident, yet friendly attitude have helped me to signal that I am not merely a pretty face, but indispensable for the conversation.

Finding the right tone...

An issue I did encounter had to do with my voice. My natural voice is rather high-pitched. Unfortunately, lower voices are associated with more competence and reliability. Therefore, I tried and tested some voice modulations that still felt comfortable even during long consecutive assignments, and found a tone that seemed useful to me. Even if others do not note the difference in tone and thereby presumed competence, I at least feel more comfortable with this modulation – to me it’s like trying and testing different foreign language accents and finding the right one for me that sounds both natural as well as professional.

...and the right clothes

Another aspect has to do with clothing. While men’s choices for professional clothes are very limited, this limitation also means that they cannot do much wrong –  by picking a suit for a formal meeting, they are well served. Women, however, can choose between countless different options – from business costumes to dresses, from jumpsuits to business trousers. A trainer of mine once said that a dress or a skirt chosen for an assignment are a statement in itself –  I do not agree completely, but do consider where I will be and who will attend before choosing my most professional business outfit in which I still feel comfortable.

Men know best

The last point that I would like to make is also related to being the only woman in the room: mansplaining. I cannot express how often I have been asked (only by men!) if I also do “this simultaneous translation” that is so very difficult, as the “translators” have to do both things at once, listening and speaking – duh! Why is it that I would never approach a delegate and explain to them how their job works, but so many delegates approach me and are convinced that they know more about conference interpreting than the only conference interpreter in the room. I understand that many people do not have a clear understanding of how we train for our job and what else I do other can consecutive interpreting, yet I would appreciate if you asked me these things first before explaining them to me.

Other than that, I personally have not had any uncomfortable experience in a work setting (although I have heard stories…). I think as a young female conference interpreter, you should consider these aspects before going to a job, but if you go prepared and as your most confident and professional self, this will resonate well with other participants and lead to the desired respect towards you and your work.

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