Paula Barbary Shannon of Lilt: “We must find a way to make higher education affordable”

We must find a way to make higher education affordable. I live in Canada and when I compare the tuition to the US, I can’t fathom how people manage. As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the gender wage gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Paula […]

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We must find a way to make higher education affordable. I live in Canada and when I compare the tuition to the US, I can’t fathom how people manage.

As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the gender wage gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Paula Barbary Shannon of Lilt.

Paula has had a career in global sales that has spanned 35 years and been centered in the language industry. She speaks six languages and has managed teams in over 26 countries and helped to grow revenues at Lionbridge from 38M dollars to just under 600M dollars in her 18 year tenure there. She currently works as Chief Evangelist at Lilt, the leading human-powered, technology-assisted translation provider.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?

I was getting ready to do an MBA at INSEAD in France when I was hired by the language industry legend, Berlitz. The opportunity was as a management trainee, and included exposure to finance, operations, sales, and marketing. I jumped at the chance, and after my initial stints in management at sites across the US, I wound up helping to open sales in the field of software localization, first in Canada and North America, and then globally.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

Being involved when great brands went global was certainly the highlight of my career. I helped sell and then support the launch of the first Apple store in China, set up global brand ambassadors for Burberry, and sold the first multilingual keyword testing to Google, and worked on the first speech assistants for Nokia and Samsung.

Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was first transferred to work in Beverly Hills with Berlitz, the office made a mistake with my long term hotel reservation by transposing the words. I checked into the most filthy, and dangerous, ground floor motel with no phone, no food onsite, and a sawed off twin bunk bed. I was in shock. I was convinced I had made an enormous career mistake. I was thinking of resigning, but the next day when the office asked how I liked the hotel, I mentioned the name. They were horrified and moved me out that afternoon!

Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. Even in 2020, women still earn about 81 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you explain three of the main factors that are causing the wage gap?

I initially felt that the data in sales would prove much healthier for women and was very surprised to learn how wrong I was. Recently, Xactly produced a study on wages and women in sales, that shows that despite being underrepresented (with women making up 29% of the reps and 26% of the sales managers) across nearly all industries, women tend to hit or exceed their quotas, but are paid less in salary and commissions over time.

I think there are many complex, societal reasons for this and it starts with hiring and profiling for sales positions. There is an unconscious bias on the part of the hiring manager to choose male candidates when they are looking for “closers” or tough salespeople.

Women are seen as facilitators and are often placed in account management or account servicing roles. This also differs by industry and in many male-dominated industries, the buyers are always overwhelmingly male, still. There is no shortage of data demonstrating that, while men and women do score differently on assessment tests with regard to core selling skills and traits, they are equally effective, with women hitting quota 70% of the time to men’s 67%. Furthermore, a Wharton professor’s study of practices at large stock brokerage firms showed that women were consistently given inferior accounts.

I would be remiss if I didn’t quickly plug the incredible work done by the Lilt sales team here. Over half of our sales team are made up of some of the most talented women in the industry, and we are hiring across the US and EMEA. If you’re interested, please apply at lilt.com/careers.

Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?

Lilt is uniquely focused on improving the working conditions of translators. This is a profession with a high percentage of female workers. By deploying award-winning technology (recognized by Forbes, Gartner, CB Insights, and others as one of the top global AI companies) we allow for effective and flexible cloud working and we pay fairly, quickly, and without bias. We are also a top supporter of Women in Localization, our advocacy group.

Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the gender wage gap. Please share a story or example for each.

We must find a way to make higher education affordable. I live in Canada and when I compare the tuition to the US, I can’t fathom how people manage.

We need to have gender-sponsored scholarships to assist women facing barriers. These could be privately sponsored and focused on specific roles and industries.

Paid leave for childcare must be improved and lengthened. Too often women choose to leave their jobs, in order to have a full year for early childcare, rather than return to work too quickly. Once out of the workforce, it is substantially harder to jump back in.

Re-entry programs that include training and skill upgrades for women who want to rejoin the workforce after gaining life skills caring for family

More flexibility for women (and men) who must care for aging parents.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to see a movement that had a corporate twist to Big Sister movements. Essentially any female executive would sponsor an entry level intern or current student to shadow them for a month.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Well, what gender equality interview couldn’t do with a Mary Tyler Moore reference!!

“Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.” ―Mary Tyler Moore

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

While many of my personal views tend to be liberal, I have always admired Condoleezza Rice. As the first female and African-American Secretary of State, she broke through barriers that were unimaginable. She also achieved all that she has, as an academic, diplomat, National Security Director, and now Director of the Hoover Institution, through her own abilities, intelligence, discipline, and focus. She was always the most skilled or experienced choice for the job. I believe that gender equality is about removing barriers so that all women can excel.

I have a special affinity, as I was recently named the first female Vice-President in the almost 150-year history of the oldest golf club in North America, The Royal Montréal Golf Club. When Condoleezza Rice was admitted to Augusta in 2012, she was once again breaking first ground.

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.

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