Rise ‘Women in Broadcast’ Interview with Louise Tapia

Nov 16 2020 VITAC
Microphone against a purple background for the Rise blog

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If you missed Louise Tapia‘s recent interview with Bea Alonso for Rise – a group for Women in Broadcast here’s a quick cutdown of the highlights including some great advice for future female leaders. (Note: Take 1 is now VITAC.)

Bea Alonso –  Hello, and welcome to another edition of The Rise in conversation with… webinar series, where you can hear from fantastic women who made their mark in the media technology sector. My name is Bea Alonso, I’m mum to a curious five-year-old, long-timer in the video technology industry, and also a member of the Rise advisory board. Today, I have the pleasure of talking to Louise Tapia. She is also a busy mum to two university-age children, as well as the CEO and General Manager of Take 1, a global transcription and captioning services company, that works with projects such as Fleabag and Serengeti. Louise joins us today from Santiago de Chile. Hello and welcome.

Louise Tapia – Hi, Bea, nice to see you.

Bea Alonso – Louise, tell us a little bit about how you came to lead Take 1 into what it is today.

Louise Tapia  – Sure. Take 1 was founded 20 years ago, or 21 years ago I think, by my brother, Dom. Very humble beginnings, he literally started transcribing in his bedroom after dropping out of uni. He started working with the BBC and as time went on, he gradually took on transcribers to help with the work that he couldn’t manage himself. So, I joined about two years into that. The company was growing. I’ve really worked in all parts of the business, all areas. I’ve done sales, accounts, operations, a lot of areas, and I’ve seen it change a lot, from very analogue workflows back then. You know, we’re talking the early 2000s, we used to work from audio cassettes and VHS a long while back. And obviously it’s now completely file based, almost entirely cloud based today, so some huge changes on the technology side. And I’ve had the role of CEO for five years. It’s been a roller coaster journey. Still hugely enjoy it, most of the time.

Bea Alonso – And you are currently based in Chile. How did that come about and what is it like to be a working mum there?

Louise Tapia – Yes, I’m in Chile now, that’s right. Well, my husband’s from Chile originally. We met in 1994 when I was studying here as part of my university course in the UK. I had to go to a Spanish speaking country, so I chose Chile. That was what brought me here. He and I became parents quite young. I was only 22, still a student, a long while back, and since then we’ve really lived in both countries. Most recently we tend to divide our time between the UK and Chile. But in answer to your question, what’s it like to be a working mum here. I think, wherever you live, you still face the same day-to-day challenges of raising children and working. Personally, I feel really lucky to have two places that I can call home, and also my children, Sofia and Lucas, I feel very lucky that they have two nationalities, so there are bonuses. There’s downsides too, but in the main it’s good.

Bea Alonso – Great. And I’m a little bit interested now in talking about the sort of work that Take 1 delivers, but also specially how you’ve evolved your services to leverage AI.

Louise Tapia – Sure. So, Take 1, we deliver a range of transcription services, access services and localization services. We basically get involved at different points in the content creation and distribution stage, so for example, at the early part we’ll get involved, providing transcripts of unedited footage and those transcripts are used in the edit, to help make the programs, particularly in unscripted genres, so documentaries, reality shows, that kind of thing. We then work through and we provide a final program which supports localization and compliance, so it’s kind of a blueprint of the program for those functions. And then, more recently, we’ve launched captioning and audio description as part of our access services division, so to make content visible by hard of hearing and partially sighted individuals. So, yeah, in terms of your question there about AI technologies. We’re regularly testing different AI technologies. Our view is we plug them in wherever we can do so, to see if we see efficiencies being made, that’s when we use them. We believe there’s really a sweet spot between AI and human. So in some cases, the AI can create efficiencies and then our human experts basically enhance the AI output to get it to a quality level that our customers demand. But it all varies. And when we’re talking about AI, we could be talking about ASR technology, so automatic speech recognition; we could be talking about OCR, or other technologies that support just, you know, one small part of the work flow. And the other thing to mention, in terms of our experience with it, is we’re not wed to one particular technology. We’re very aware that the technology is developing really fast, and so we want to ensure that we can plug in to whichever technology is optimum for a specific content that we’re working on, or a specific use case.

Bea Alonso – So on the point of AI, there’s something I wanted to – just from your answer. I’m doing a masters currently in marketing and one of the questions that comes over and over again is, will AI take over human work? Will AI be able to replace the work that humans do, in whatever sector. And you just mentioned there that there’s always an element of the human review, the validation of the data at the end. So I want to pose that question to you. Do you see a future where that step will not be needed?

Louise Tapia – I think, yes, for some use cases. I think it all depends, in our environment, if you like, in the media and entertainment industry and the types of work that we do. Yes, in some cases an AI only pass, so if you’ve got a piece of audio material and you put it through AI technology, the output that it creates is good enough for some use cases, for sure, and it’s faster than having a human do it from scratch. But in other cases, for example, when you need it to be super accurate, in our case in media, if you need a script to be super accurate because it’s going to be used for dubbing from, for example, it’s got to be spot on. You can’t have a few words that are incorrect because then the translator is going to localize it incorrectly and the viewer ultimately is going to have a bad experience. So I think, in answer to your question, yes, definitely, there are cases where it will take over, and it has already, you know, in many industries too, technology has replaced human activities, but there are still many, many, many, many use cases where it can’t do everything that’s required.

Bea Alonso – Yeah. And I typically see it as a complement to what we do.

Louise Tapia – I agree.

Bea Alonso – It reduces a lot of the repetitive tasks.

Louise Tapia – Exactly.

Bea Alonso – A human could be doing something more productive with their time than doing that.

Louise Tapia – Yeah.

Bea Alonso – Yeah. So, Take 1 has a long list of high profile customers and projects, and feel free to tell us about some of those if you wish, but most recently and as a result of the confinement measures in the UK, you’ve worked with the BBC on something that many parents must be very grateful for. So can you tell us a bit more about that?

Louise Tapia – Yes, very happy to. So, what you’re referring to is BBC Bitesize Daily. It’s an amazing service, we’re really proud to have worked on it. We’ve worked with the BBC for many years on many, many different projects, but this one in particular is really great. My kids, as I mentioned, they’re at university age, so I haven’t had to deal with home schooling throughout COVID, but I do have huge respect for parents that do. I think it must be a real challenge. And I know that the BBC initiative has been a huge help for parents that are home schooling. So basically, what it is, they’ve been delivering tailored lessons across their different platforms – iPlayer, BBC Bitesize website and BBC 4 – for students of all ages, and it was rolled out really rapidly when COVID hit. It was all hands to the pump I think to get the content made and distributed on time so that parents could have access to it. So where we’ve come in, Take 1, we’ve been providing transcripts and captions of the content, on very fast turnarounds, so what that does is, it’s been making the episodes accessible for people who are hard of hearing. So that project is quite typical. We’re often relied upon by production companies, broadcasters or even some of our vendor partners, to work on very fast turnaround, high-volume projects. It’s quite a typical thing that we’re asked to do. But, yeah, especially pleased to have been able to help out on that one.

Bea Alonso – Yeah. And I want to talk a little bit later about how you maintain your business relationships in these days of social distancing, but just to talk about, you know, we were talking about how you were helping the BBC with a public service that has been really important during this difficult time, and it strikes me that you, very personally, you take corporate social responsibility quite seriously, and within Take 1 as well. So I want to know more about this and what drove you to create some of the initiatives that Take 1 actually have put in place?

Louise Tapia – Sure. So I mean, I guess corporate social responsibility covers a number of areas, doesn’t it? One of them that is one of our core services now, and what I was referring to earlier with the BBC Bitesize, is access services. So access services themselves help ensure that everyone, whatever their physical ability, has access to all the amazing content that’s made and subtitles and audio description open up whole new worlds to people. So that’s, I guess, it’s one of our services but it’s an area that we feel very passionately about and we’re proud to participate in. So, yeah, other initiatives around that theme of corporate social responsibility is around mental health. Personally, I feel very strongly that mental health is an issue that needs to be taken seriously and talked about. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to about it has either experienced, you know, suffered some kind of mental health issues at some point in their life, or someone very close them has. So it’s not uncommon, it’s everywhere. And I feel that as employers, we have a duty of care towards our employees. I think that supporting their mental well-being is just as important as ensuring their safety and work and supporting career progression and being respectful towards them. One particular initiative that we started, my colleague Alicia, actually, is a trained mental health first aider, so she initiated a mental health program for our staff earlier this year, which included providing access to counsellors, and it proved, actually, really timely because, given the challenges that we’ve all experienced around COVID, you know, I think it’s been a really helpful offering. And my colleague, Jess, also rolled out a similar initiative. We have an office here in Santiago, as well as our UK one, so she put a similar program in place for our staff here. And just one other thing, in relation again to corporate social responsibility, sustainability is obviously a big topic that’s coming more and more on the radar as the years go by and we’re working towards the DPP Committed to Sustainability program. We’ve set ourselves some ambitious sustainability targets this year and, post COVID, we will be very close to being a paperless office. I think we’ve all been forced to be by working from home. We’re tackling carbon emissions by cutting down on travel, introducing more flexibility on working for staff and I think, even after COVID, we’re going to continue to hold a number of staff meetings remotely and that kind of thing, so that’s another initiative that’s quite an important one that’s on our radar.

Bea Alonso – That’s quite a lot of initiatives there and while you were telling me about this, I was thinking – and it’s related to our next question but let me just ask you this anyway. Do you think that being a female CEO means that you’re more sensitive to issues around equality at work? You were saying that you’re making sure that you provide enough support to female employees, you know, help with maternity and so on. So do you think that being a female CEO makes you more sensitive to that?

Louise Tapia – I really don’t know the answer to that. It’s not something I’ve really thought about. I think it’s just normal. I suspect there’s examples of male CEOs who are just as considerate, I guess, if you want to call it that, and many that aren’t. But perhaps there’s many females that aren’t. I don’t know. I don’t have any hard evidence to say, yes, actually, definitely female CEOs tend to be more sensitive so some of those areas. Maybe. Maybe.

Bea Alonso – Whilst you and I were chatting before the interview, you were saying you had been fortunate not to actually experience any sort of imbalance in terms of gender at work, whereas I know there’s a few of us in the industry that, working in a very technical environment, often puts us in that sort of situation too. And so this links to our next question because, as well as being one of the few female CEOs in a male-dominated industry, you have actually built a management team where women are in the vast majority. So to me it’s clear that we need more women at director and senior level in our industry, and I wonder, what would you recommend to both employers and employees to address this?

Louise Tapia – To be honest with you, it’s not something I’ve been specifically proactive about. We do indeed have a number of female managers and senior leaders at Take 1, but in each case I think we’ve simply appointed the candidate that we felt has been the right one for the role. That said, I am often surprised, you know, when I go to an event, maybe a DPP or a MESA event or something like that, I do a double take when I arrive sometimes because I’m surprised that the vast majority of people attending are male. I guess my experience day to day is I tend to find that I’m dealing with just as many women as men, in my daily work. But I think that might be because I tend to perhaps deal with people that are on the more creative side of the industry, which I think there’s probably a little bit more of a balance. For sure, the solely technical side of the industry is still dominated by men. Certainly my experience has been that, on the whole, I would say both men and women are receptive to women being in those types of roles and recognize their value. I guess, in answer to your question, if we want there to be more of a balance, I think it probably starts with the education, so we need to facilitate more women studying in those fields and then they’re going to come through and take the roles and ultimately have senior positions. I think that’s probably where it starts, but I think that’s been my experience. It’s fairly balanced.

Bea Alonso – Hm, interesting. And when you mentioned the education, that’s where Rise’s Rise Up program comes into play. If anyone who is watching hasn’t actually taken into account that the program, with Rise at the moment, we’re looking at – and this was pre COVID, of course. There’s a bit of a slow-down in that program right now, because it was going to schools and making sure that we made the broadcast sector interesting to both boys and girls, but of course, making sure that girls do not feel intimidated of that experience of walking into an industry event where you’re going to find 80% of the attendees are male.

Louise Tapia – Yeah, and is it successful. Are you definitely getting more traction and getting more females interested in those courses and things?

Bea Alonso – Well, as I said, it was really abruptly interrupted by lockdown, but the initial response had been extremely positive. So we’re looking forward to continuing that, once the lockdown eases in the UK.

Louise Tapia – Yeah, that’s great.

Bea Alonso – Let’s talk a little bit about flexible working initiatives. For example, I’ve seen that Take 1 has a highly outsourced model.

Louise Tapia – We do.

Bea Alonso – And any house with, both men and women work flexible hours, much needed these days when we’ve got kids at home, they can’t go to school. But that means that you end up spending more time with your family as well. Do you think this is going to change post COVID? Is it going to become more popular? What’s your view on this?

Louise Tapia – I do, yeah, I do think that. I think that COVID has made us challenge the purpose of the office. I think it’s made us all question the requirement to have a 9.00 to 5.30 or whatever, working day. I think it’s forcing us to question that. In our case, we haven’t actually reopened either of our offices yet. Everybody is still working completely remotely, successfully, and we are really, really carefully thinking about when and how we reopen. My personal view is that the office does still provide a function. I think, particularly around collaboration, forming connections between team members, sharing ideas, that kind of stuff and that’s the one thing that’s hard to keep momentum on when everybody’s remote. But, I think that having a split between office and working from home, provides the best of both worlds. I think that one of the things, obviously, is a reduced commute. That’s certainly one of the things that people have enjoyed. And, like you say, the possibility of flexible working, being able to work around other commitments, whether it’s your kids or other interests that you’re pursuing. So I think that’s going to become the norm, the balance. In our case, we have been talking very regularly to our staff, we’re trying to understand what’s working. Certain things have been working really successfully with us working from home. Other parts, less so. Other areas are more frustrating. So it’s really trying to get the best of both and combining that.

Bea Alonso – And in terms of the technology, how ready did you feel, as a company, to suddenly stop going to the office in person and having to continue with– I mean, business continuity with the technology, and I imagine most facilities being on premises somewhere. How did that work for Take 1?

Louise Tapia – Well, as you mentioned, we already operate quite a distributed workforce. We have a large number of people working for us as transcribers or captioners or translators and we do already have a remote setup for them, if you like. We’d also, luckily, invested quite a lot and done quite a lot of planning before COVID, before anyone had even heard of the term COVID, we’d done quite a lot of planning around business continuity, you know, DR planning, BC planning. So it wasn’t a big leap for us. Of course, there were some hoops to jump through and technical glitches to fix and people needed to be set up, but our whole infrastructure was quite ready for having the whole workforce working remotely. It wasn’t a huge leap for us.

Bea Alonso – Okay. And so, in this new world of social distancing and significant reduction of in-person events, how do you network? This part is really interesting to me because I think we work in an industry where networking and human contact and interaction is essential. I mean, no DPP events, no NAB, no IBC at the moment. So I think we bring a little bit from that bond-building exercise that these events gave us. And so I’m curious how you, yourself as the CEO and Take 1 as the company, are replacing some of that networking and relationship building exercise. How do you continue the bonds with your partners and customers?

Louise Tapia – Yeah, it’s early days and I think it’s going to be really interesting to see how it develops. Personally, what I’ve found, my personal experience, that while everyone’s been working being socially distances, meetings are on Zoom, like this, generally I’ve found people have been a little bit more open and friendly than normal perhaps, which has been a plus. That’s been really great. I think we all, kind of, relate to each other maybe a little bit more. And I think, right now, while everyone is working remotely, the face-to-face meetings aren’t quite as important. Just, I’m talking perhaps with clients and that kind of thing because, for example, right now we know that, just like us, our competitors are unable to meet in person with clients at events and that kind of thing. So you feel, oh, well, they can’t, so that’s okay then, we can’t either. But that said, you can’t beat a face-to-face meeting. I think there’s a huge benefit to those and I’m really looking forward to the time when we can revert to having them when it’s safe to do so. But it will be interesting, how it all pans out. You talk to different people about it and some are very much of the opinion that, oh, no, no one’s going to bother with events anymore and we’re all going to do everything remotely and I’m not sure that that’s exactly the case. I think, a bit like returning to the office, it forces you to question the value of that. You know, why, in my case, last year I flew, I travelled a huge amount between Chile and the UK and the States, I travelled to the States a lot, and it does make you question and think, hold on, do I need to do quite that much travelling? Do I need to go to every event in person or do every meeting face to face? So I suspect a lot of people will be thinking that. Hold on, maybe I can cut back. Maybe I can spend a bit more time with my family. But, I don’t think we all want to be doing this every day. It’s a balance, isn’t it?

Bea Alonso – Agreed, and I was just about to pick on that point, about the travelling. I’ve been certainly reflecting on the amount of travelling I was doing and, you know, just the one-day meeting in Paris and just to meet for three hours and come back, and that seemed quite normal at that time. And COVID, I think, has really, as you say, made us all think. And so I was going to ask you, you know, there’s several elements to that, because there’s the sustainability as well. If you travel less, you’re more environmentally friendly. So, it sounds to me like you are thinking that, potentially, you will question a little bit, all of your travel schedule going forward.

Louise Tapia – Yeah, definitely. For a number of reasons, I think sustainability is a really important part of it and I think, just your sanity as well, going back to the mental health point. I don’t know about you, Bea, but this whole COVID thing has made me think, just having to slow down. I mean, still working a lot, for sure, but just slowing down a bit and actually taking a step and reflecting on previous years and you think, hold on, there’s something a little bit wrong there where it was a little bit too crazy. Perhaps just turning it down a bit. So, I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that either.

Bea Alonso – No, I can totally relate to that and it’s been a good reflective time. But also, I think it depends on employers and companies, but my experience is that employers have also been understanding and saying, you know, this is a critical time for everybody and we expect that there’s going to be some sort of changes in productivity, at least whilst we find our new normal, whatever that is going to be. Let me just go back to, I mean, what Rise stands for, obviously, it’s a group for women in broadcast. We’re an advocacy group and we want to make sure that as many females as possible come to work with us because this is a really fun industry, at least that’s what I think.

Louise Tapia – Yeah, I agree with you.

Bea Alonso – So, what would you say to any female listeners who want to either break into the media technology industry, or want to find their way into more senior roles?

Louise Tapia – Yeah, I would say go for it. I think that, as we said earlier, while media technology is still dominated by men, I don’t believe that that means men are against employing or working with women in these roles. And in fact, most men I’ve spoken with about it are, you know, keep to include more women. And as I said earlier, I think it comes from having plenty of women studying these subjects and then they can, you know, move through into the workplace. And also, similarly, when we think about women in senior roles, yes, of course, I’m sure there will always be some conservative men, and women perhaps, who don’t think that women should be, or are capable of running businesses and having high-level or senior roles. There’s always going to be some people that think that. But, you know, again, from my experience, that’s not the case with most people. Most men do, and in fact are keen, I think, to appoint women at this level. So, yeah, in answer to your question, what would I say to female listeners that want to break in to either media or into a senior role, yeah, go for it. Go for it. Just work hard, use your connections, be smart, don’t hold back.

Bea Alonso – Yeah, and I think, from what you and I have been talking about, it strikes me that you’re very much a get-up-and-go person and I think that’s really important in any industry, of course, but if you have that extra, added challenge, as we do, as females in this industry, I think it’s really important you just demonstrate that you have a can-do attitude, right?

Louise Tapia – Exactly. I agree. I think that’s the right approach. And the world is changing. It’s interesting, isn’t it? It’s a bigger deal for our generation. I don’t know how old you are, Bea, but probably younger than me. But I think that our generation–

Bea Alonso – I think we’re pretty much the same, yes, our generation. Yes.

Louise Tapia – It’s still an issue and we grew up thinking that we had to do everything and we had to prove ourselves as mothers, that we could work hard and we could do well and all of that. And my daughter’s generation, she’s 24, she’s like “Mum, what are you talking about? I know I can do anything…” You know? And that’s great, that’s great. I don’t know if that’s the norm. I don’t know if everybody, her generation thinks like that. Perhaps she’s been fortunate and no one’s told her that she can’t do something because she’s a woman, which is great, fantastic. But I think that’s a really positive sign and I’m excited about that. It needs to be balanced, but I hope that it’s balanced from a place of people just doing a good job, you know, rather than us having to make real special allowances.

Bea Alonso – Yeah. And also, while you were talking about the newer generation, I think one difference as well is – or, the newer generations – is the democratization of technology. You know, 20 years ago, technology was fairly complicated, there was a lot of hardware, you had to be a specialist. But today, I think your kids, my kid, I can see it in my really young kid, technology is second nature, and it’s much more accessible.

Louise Tapia – Completely agree.

Bea Alonso – And in a very technology-driven industry, as we are, yeah, I think that’s going to be a facilitator, don’t you think?

Louise Tapia – Yeah, I do. I think everyone’s going to have to have it as well. It’s becoming a bit like, you know, everyone needs to know how to read and write and do a certain level of maths just to do any job. Now, having a certain understanding of technology and, more from a user perspective for sure, and a conceptual understanding is kind of the base line. Everyone’s going to have that. And then, of course, there will be groups of people that have much more specialized knowledge and we need those too, for sure. It’s interesting.

Bea Alonso – Everyone is going to have to be able to do Zooms, for example.

Louise Tapia – Yeah, of course, yeah. Just a natural thing.

Bea Alonso – Well, Louise, it’s been a pleasure to talk to you.

Louise Tapia – You too, yeah. Thank you for the invite.

Bea Alonso – Congratulations on the success of Take 1.

Louise Tapia – Thank you.

Bea Alonso – You know, it looks like a great place to work at and you’ve been clearly instrumental in building the business from the ground up.

Louise Tapia – Yep, that’s true.

Bea Alonso – So, hats off to you.

Louise Tapia – Thank you, Bea.

Bea Alonso – And thank you for those who were watching today. If you like what you saw, please like and share on social networks. You can go back to watch previous Rise in conversation with… webinar sessions or go to the Rise website and YouTube channel. And you can now check the schedule as well for our coming episodes and you can become a Rise member on our website, www.risewib.com, or search for Rise, a group for women in broadcast. See you next time. Thanks again, Louise.

Louise Tapia – Thanks, Bea.

Bea Alonso – And I hope we get to meet in person one day.

Louise Tapia – That would be good, yeah, that would be great.

Bea Alonso – Take care. Adios.

Louise Tapia – Okay, bye for now.