Stepping Up and Standing Down

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ITI Conference 2019, Sheffield

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed not only that I stood down from the ITI Board this year, but that I also hadn’t completed the usual six-year term (subject to re-election, of course). To my horror, one colleague did in fact write to me and ask if I hadn’t enjoyed being on the Board and was that why I was standing down, so it’s been on my mind to put the record straight.

My decision to stand down was primarily driven by family circumstances: regular readers of my blog will know from my posts at the start of the year that my father has been struggling with his mental health since just before the start of Covid in early 2020. My sister and I had been helping my mum wherever we could, Covid lockdowns permitting, but we never managed to get a formal diagnosis of his condition from the NHS, which meant that getting any kind of support was extremely difficult. We had arranged for a private health assessment in the meantime, but my mum was then taken ill suddenly in October last year and died three weeks later, leaving us all reeling. The past nine months have disappeared in a whirl of care, admin for two houses and trying to work on top – and that’s the real reason I decided to take a step back. I simply hadn’t got the headspace any more. I’d juggled work, caring, board responsibilities and everything else life has thrown at me for the past traumatic two years of Covid and my father’s ever-declining health and there comes a point when you realise something has to give.

As my sister (three years younger than me) said only last week, we’re not exactly spring chickens ourselves! I’m in my 7th decade (scary though it sounds to admit it!) and it’s important that we look after our own health too. We’re no use to anyone if we collapse under the strain as well. As it was, I’d been unable to work much between September and March of this year, so my income was well down on previous years. Not a problem in itself as I have a financial cushion to fall back on, but with 6 years to go before I can claim the state pension, I can’t realistically give up work completely any time soon. What’s more, I needed to find some time for me.

Hence my decision; made with regret, I hasten to add. I have thoroughly enjoyed my three years on the board and hope I was able to contribute my two penn’orth in many ways. I’m certainly not a front-of-house person, preferring to work behind the scenes, but hope that my input to many a discussion was valuable during my time on the board.

I certainly wouldn’t want to give anyone the impression that being on the board is an onerous task. I was flattered to be asked by a previous Chair to consider standing in the first place and felt I did have something to contribute after all my years in the profession. And that’s what it’s all about really, isn’t it? Giving back and helping to move the profession forward. But to do anything properly, you do need to devote time and energy to it, and time is something I’ve been perilously short of over the past 2 ½ years.

I loved the camaraderie of meeting with my fellow board members (when we could – at least I had a year of proper face-to-face meetings before the dreaded C-word struck! Colleagues who joined in subsequent years were unable to meet up until the recent ITI Conference in some cases.). It was particularly enlightening to meet up with colleagues I knew of or had met in online forums, but who were interpreters or worked in agencies. We all tend to see things from our own perspective, but it’s fascinating when you sit and debate issues to realise that interpreters or translation companies have a different take – equally valid, but different. And we are the Institute of Translation and Interpreting, when all is said and done. That’s why it’s so important to get a range of people on the board: translators, interpreters, different ages, genders (not always easy in a female-dominated profession), varied professional experiences and qualifications. There is always a corporate member, of course, to put over that side of the equation – and it makes perfect sense to listen to what they have to say. Agencies play a huge role in many translators’ lives, after all.

ITI Board meeting

When we discussed whether to increase subscriptions at the start of the year, for example, we had a lengthy and riveting debate. The sensible financial decision, in view of rising costs all around, and the fact that subs hadn’t risen at all for the past few years, would have been to propose an increase, at least by a small amount. However, a number of us felt strongly that many colleagues had been hit so hard by the double whammy of Covid and Brexit that it would cause significant hardship and alienation to go down that route. We put it to the vote, as always, and agreed to leave rates the same. In view of what came afterwards, with the conflict in Ukraine and the huge hike in energy bills, to say nothing of the political upheaval in the UK, I’m very glad we did.

It’s also great that the ITI encourages members in other countries to stand for election as it’s important to get that international perspective too. Airfares from Spain or Portugal (where two of our board members are currently based) are no more than train fares or mileage costs within the UK in many cases, and the last few years have shown, if nothing else, that Zoom meetings can be extremely effective. Every other meeting is held via Zoom in any event. Ultimately, however, nothing can replace the brainstorming and enthusiasm engendered by an in-person meeting. I really enjoyed my visits to Milton Keynes every couple of months to try and put the ITI world to rights with like-minded colleagues.

The governance side of being a board member (or Director of the ITI, if you like) is something else I hadn’t really given much thought to previously. Before your first meeting proper, you are sent a pack of governance material, articles, code of conduct, etc. to read, digest and inwardly assimilate, then you have a chat with the Company Secretary who explains it all in the simplest possible way – for those of us who haven’t been involved with corporate governance at all. The role of Company Secretary is outsourced to a company specialising in governance matters for membership organisations and it is their job to make sure that our elections, rules, articles, etc, remain strictly within the law. The ITI also employs an accountant to do the same on the financial side. It goes without saying that the Board must remain above board… All these aspects were surprisingly interesting – and reassuring to know that our organisation is in such safe hands, from our estimable CEO, through the fabulous office team, to these specialist roles. Elections of new members, the various committees, and projects like the new website, conferences, events and CPD, qualifications and equality, diversity and inclusion are all subject to the same forensic attention to detail.

Being on the board quite simply gives you a whole new perspective: instead of muttering to yourself “Why can’t they just do this…”, or “I wish they’d just get on with it…”, you realise that the board is representing the interests of over 3,000 individual members, not all of whom have the same needs. We have to take our time to do what’s right for the majority of members, but also, and very importantly, for the profession as a whole. We are there to represent members, certainly, but also to interact with outside bodies on members’ behalf.

One last, and rather unexpected, bonus of being a board member was the heightened recognition not only from colleagues, but also from friends and people outside the profession. People are impressed that you’ve made the effort to join the board, to put yourself up for election – and to take the knocks that are associated with such roles. There are always those who see you as fair game when you put your head above the parapet… As with any form of networking, mixing with people from different parts of the profession may even lead to work recommendations. I’ve recommended colleagues I got to know better via the board because I’ve been impressed with their knowledge, conscientious approach and meticulous attention to detail. It works both ways – not that that’s a reason to stand for election!

IT Conference auditorium

With all that responsibility comes the need to devote a certain amount of time, however – and I truly felt I couldn’t continue to put my heart into the board with everything else going on in my life just now. I’m sure that the newly elected members (Lloyd, Fiona and Agata) will do a brilliant job alongside the existing members and it was lovely to meet them properly at the ITI Conference in Brighton. In fact, I so enjoyed the hectic pace of being a room angel and being on the back-stage team at a real-life conference again, I felt rather sad that I’d stepped down. But it was definitely the right decision for me at this stage of my life in the sandwich generation. I have two granddaughters already, including one in the US, and a new grandson due in September, as well as being there for Dad, so I’m sure I’ll have plenty to fill my time outside work. And as I said to my fellow board members, I’m still here and won’t hesitate to get in touch if I have any ideas or comments – once a board member, you always know what it’s like on the other side of the fence. I’ve also been asked to join the Fellowship Committee, so I’ll still have a very tentative finger in the ITI pie. I just hope I never lose the ability to see all those points of view.

Me with Lloyd and Paul