Localisation plays a crucial role in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Designed to make content more accessible to wider audiences, localisation is an inclusive language service by nature. However, the complexities of languages and their use can cause inclusivity problems with translation.
To overcome these, language service providers need to develop DEI localisation processes that put safeguards in place to prevent this from happening.
Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a corporate acronym used to illustrate the importance of each component in business. At its broadest definition, DEI applies to every aspect of business operations, from hiring and training to workplace interactions, disciplinary procedures, career development and more.
It also applies to business communications – both internal and external – where DEI localisation processes are essential.
In any instance where forms of communication or content are translated, DEI localisation processes can help maximise inclusivity, which benefits the company’s diversity and equity performance. Here is a quick definition of the three elements for DEI:
- Diversity: Striving for staff diversity at every level of the company and understanding how its benefits business, staff and company culture on the whole.
- Equity: Instilling fairness as a cultural practice in pursuit of genuine equality (e.g. equal opportunities with promotions).
- Inclusion: Ensuring everyone plays a meaningful role and has the same chance to excel in the workplace.
In practical terms, a complete DEI localisation strategy caters for all three of these elements. For example, a DEI localisation would ensure that training material is available in a range of languages based on staff needs, so that everyone has the same level of quality and learning opportunities.
In many cases, this includes adapting content to maximise relevance with each audience and putting safeguards in place to prevent non-inclusivity.
Localisation seeks to maximise the relevance of translated content for each target language. In this regard, it looks beyond direct translation to consider other factors – such as cultural backgrounds and linguistic ambiguity – to inform translation choices.
For example, it could inform the choice to select closed captions over subtitles for video translation or remove gendered language.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the most important elements of DEI localisation:
- Translation: The key role of localisation is to translate content for speakers of other languages.
- Accessibility: DEI helps to make text and audiovisual content accessible to those with vision and hearing difficulties.
- Comprehension: Language comprehension can vary among audiences as a result of learning difficulties, cognitive impairment, language skills and a variety of other factors.
- Language proficiency: Target language audiences may not be completely native, therefore DEI works to ensure that language content is as accessible as possible (e.g. using simplified language, avoiding the use of idioms).
- Cultural influence: An individual’s cultural background can have a profound impact on how language content is interpreted. DEI works to pre-assess language content before publication and tailor it to meet target audience expectation.
- Ambiguity: Language and symbolism are subject to interpretation by nature, and its ambiguity can be exaggerated by translation or a lack of localisation (e.g. colour symbolism across diverse cultures).
- Language inclusivity: Languages can have inherent bias that have real-world implications, and so, our language choice may work against inclusivity.
All of these factors raise several problems and challenges, many of which don’t have simple answers. Research, analysis and feedback are key components of DEI localisation and the willingness to continue improving as your strategy matures.
One of the biggest challenges in DEI localisation is dealing with the inherent bias of language and language use. It is important to distinguish between these two characteristics because they are two distinct problems that need to be separately addressed.
- Inherent language bias: Characteristics of a language that can offend, cause prejudice or exclude certain groups or individuals.
- Bias in language use: This refers to bias in the way society and people use language.
A good example of inherent bias is the genderisation of many languages, including: French, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Greek and many others. From a linguistic perspective, gendered language raises localisation challenges, but, more importantly, research has found that it puts women at a disadvantage in terms of having equal life opportunities when compared to men.
Bias in language use isn’t inherent in the grammatical structure or lexicon of a language. It is rather learned, adopted and used by language speakers and it has the power to manifest pervasive social bias – both on conscious and unconscious level.
For example, referring to people over a certain age as elderly creates a conceptual group to which we assign characteristics, connotations and – in many cases unintentionally – stereotypes. There is nothing malicious about the term elderly itself, but it is important to manage how such terminology is used to prevent bias and discrimination.
In the context of translation, DEI localisation may opt for the translation of “an 80-year-old man” instead of “an elderly man”.
The issue of bias in the language English speakers use, is rooted deeply in modern everyday English. This is true for many other languages too, but the specifics vary across each language, and in some ways, in local dialects, slang and expressions.
Unconscious bias is arguably the most difficult to identify and deal with. For example, many native English speakers will never have considered for the words “blacklisted” and “whitelisted” to be problematic.
However, once you start to analyse their etymology, you find that these terms were purposefully used to intentionally discriminate, as they imply that “white” is positive and “black” is negative, hence why many are now using “blocklist” and “allowlist” instead. As with many instances of bias in language use, individual examples like “whitelisted” and “blacklisted” are instances of a more widespread issue.
We see this across references to: race, class, gender, age, sexuality and almost every other element in our society.
Any company that translates content – for internal or external use – needs to develop a DEI localisation strategy. In the grand scheme of things, DEI is still in its infancy and it faces the challenging task of addressing pervasive issues in society, language and language use that have long existed across different cultures.
As a result, there is no perfect framework to follow with DEI localisation. Instead, companies need to start developing their own strategy as soon as possible and invest in resources to help build a culture of inclusivity across their organisation.