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Great women in translation

FinlaysonSpotlight on Jane Finlayson

The head of translation at one of the largest national accounting bodies in the world talks about her career.

An interview by Barbara McClintock, Certified Translator


Circuit: Why did you want to become a translator?

Jane Finlayson: I decided to become a translator at the age of 14 when it dawned on me that I could take advantage of the fact that I lived in English at home (my parents were from Alberta) and in French at school (I went to Collège Marie de France from the age of 7 to 17). I’m a practical person, and I was good at languages in school, so I decided to capitalize on my strengths. I was very fortunate to be immersed in a French environment where grammar and writing skills were valued. When I moved with my family to Vancouver Island after CEGEP, I took various courses at the University of Victoria for a year and worked as a research assistant in the French department for the summer. I then returned to Québec to pursue a B.A. in translation at Université de Montréal and subsequently became a Certified Translator from English to French.

C.: You were first hired as an English to French translator at the Ordre des comptables agréés du Québec in 1987 and then became its French to English translator in the early 1990s. That is a bit unusual. Also, given the theme of this issue, were there many women translators at the Order when you began your career?

J.F.: Since I had always studied in French and lived in French everywhere but at home, it was natural for me to translate toward that language. After having been selected as a summer trainee in the Language Services department at the OCAQ during my studies, I was offered a permanent position there, and this marked the beginning of an adventure that has been going on for 32 years. After five years as a translator, I was promoted to senior translator and that’s when the workload toward English started to grow. I really enjoyed the added challenge of working to and from both languages in a department that valued excellence. Eventually the demand for French to English material grew to the point where most of my time was spent on that language combination. In 1987, our department was made up of a clear majority of women, just like my translation classes were at university. There was a time when we would notice when a male translator was hired, but not anymore. At CPA Canada, we currently have 18 women and 14 men translators.

C.: Could you tell us about the path you followed to get to where you are today? Do you think that being a woman made it more difficult to be promoted?

I developed an interest in management, without really grasping what such duties would entail (I am wiser now!). I was attracted to new challenges and took on new projects and responsibilities whenever I could. I never felt that gender was an issue in my workplace. Yes, the department was first led by men, with Jean-François Joly being a great contributor to the advancement of our team and the profession. But all the while, Assistant Director Suzanne Mondoux ably managed day-to-day operations. In 2008, Suzanne became head of the department when Jean-François retired. I thought I could contribute, so I applied for the assistant director position that had opened up and got the job. Back then, we were still receiving all the material to be translated from Toronto by email, and every project was printed. All of this paper would land on my desk, and I would then walk down the corridor to distribute the projects among the translators. When the volume of work started to seriously increase, the whole process started to become unmanageable. At an OTTIAQ annual conference, I gathered information on workflow management systems and, from then on, I was closely involved in the selection of the provider and the setup and customization of the system for our department. When I look at where we are today, in a virtually paperless environment where all projects can be easily followed from inception to conclusion, where the material is automatically processed by our translation memory database upon receipt, and where seven coordinators do an amazing job of managing the 6.5 million words we translate a year, the job I had less than 10 years ago seems almost quaint now. However, processing all those translation projects manually was a great opportunity for me to gain a overall understanding of the department’s workload and clients, which certainly helped pave the way to getting to the position I have today.

C.: You became Director, Language Services, CPA Canada, in 2014. Could you tell us a little about the role you played in the transition period following the unification of the profession?

J.F.: CPA Canada was established on January 1, 2013, with CICA and CMA Canada being the two initial members of the organization. CGA-Canada joined us in 2014 and I oversaw the integration into our team of the five members of their translation department. It quickly became clear that we had to continue hiring as the volume of work increased significantly in the years after unification and as a number of our translators were reaching retirement age. The role I played in this transition period was to build a cohesive team, create a leadership pipeline, reorganize the department to optimize customer service, and also introduce change while preserving the culture that has always made our office such a great place to work.

C.: As a result of telework, more and more translators are working from home. What is the impact on women translators as a result of telework?

J.F.: Indeed, more and more people want to work from home or are required to, office space being at a premium. Our department is no exception. Flexible work arrangements are particularly helpful for women with young children and I’m glad to see that there are now more choices than when I was a young mother. I remember deciding with my husband which one of us should spend more time at home when our children were small. Since he was starting up a new business, I’m the one who reduced my workweek, but if I had had the option of working remotely, I likely would have taken advantage of such an arrangement. In our department today, both women and men take advantage of telework to care for their kids.

C.: CPA Canada is a leader in promoting bilingualism because of its essential dictionary, the Dictionnaire de la comptabilité et de la gestion financière. There have been many changes to it over the years, including the introduction of International Financial Reporting Standards and an electronic version of the dictionary. What changes have been made under your direction?

J.F.: When I took on my current role, the organization was changing dramatically, with new leadership and a new vision. At the same time, our dictionary author and most contributors were either retiring or close to retirement. It was a real challenge to make sure this important project did not disappear in the wave of changes that was hitting the organization. I quickly decided that my job was to create a new team and convince CPA Canada’s management in Toronto that this English - French accounting dictionary was a worthwhile project for CPA Canada. I’m glad to say that our main author stayed on for one more update and that management was receptive and supportive. This coming electronic edition will feature new and updated terminology in the fields of financial accounting and reporting, standard-setting and assurance engagements. 

C.: Do you have any advice for women translators or for those thinking of entering the profession?

J.F.: Translation is a profession that is very welcoming to women and can offer a lot of flexibility. However, translators starting out today are going to be facing challenges during their career that are very different from what my generation has experienced because of the truly disruptive nature of future technological developments and the inevitable productivity expectations they will create. I would encourage young translators to work in a structured environment before branching out on their own, if that is their chosen career path. The experience gained and the feedback obtained will allow them to develop the rigour and skills needed to produce high-quality work in an increasingly challenging market. More generally, I’d say that being engaged and committed are key to a fulfilling career.


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