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How Transcription Freed Me from Workplace Culture

by Joanna Norman

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I’ve been reflecting lately on workplace culture and feeling like the “other”. Since starting my own transcription business I have been free from all of that, and it is so much healthier for me.

Being the “Other”

Recently I was thinking back to my graduate school experience as a young woman getting a PhD in science 30 years ago. (Interestingly, what prompted this reflection was an interview I transcribed. I’m always getting to learn and think about new things because of my work as a general transcriptionist.) With a few exceptions, I did not deal with overt discrimination or harassment, but I felt like the “other” much of the time I was there. I could not have identified that feeling as such at the time, and I only recently have come to understand that the issue was not me. The problem was that the program as a whole was not a good fit for women. 

My PhD advisor was a kind man and very supportive of me. As far as I can remember, there were no women on the faculty in my department when I started grad school. There were quite a few women who were the spouses of faculty members, who had PhDs and their own research programs, but they were not full-fledged faculty members. I didn’t see any women who were successfully pursuing a faculty career and a marriage or children. It seemed to me that I could either do science or get married and have a family, but not both. I truly felt it was either oe or the other for me. While I was in graduate school, I figured it was science that I would end up dong. None of the male graduate students seemed to be worried about these things. All of that made me feel like I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t smart enough or driven enough or whatever enough.  I was an “other” in that place, and I ultimately chose a teaching-focused career rather than a research-focused career, in part because there were women role-models for me in the more teaching-oriented types of positions. I now wonder if I would or could have pursued a career in research if I had felt more like I belonged or if I had had women role models. At the time, all I knew was that I didn’t feel comfortable, happy, or successful in that academic environment, in that workplace culture.

Workplace Culture

Fast forward 20 years — when my children reached middle school, I decided to return to work full time, as a middle school science and math teacher. In education, where a vast majority of the employees are women, wouldn’t you expect the workplace culture to be friendly for women? Sadly, that was not my experience. Teaching, particularly at the elementary and middle school level, is dominated by women, but when you get to the administrative level — principals, superintendents, school boards — it is still male-dominated. This was certainly the case in both public school districts I worked in. Upper level administration was and is dominated by men, White men. So guess what? I was still the other. I still worked in an environment where as a woman taking care of yourself, setting appropriate boundaries, asking for a fair wage for your work was not supported. Again, it wasn’t until I left teaching that I came to understand that the problem wasn’t me. It was the culture of the whole system. 

My New Workplace Culture

Working for myself, as a general transcriptionist, has freed me from feeling like I am the other. Any workplace culture that exists is of my own creation. I can’t even begin to tell you how healthy this is for me! 

How about you?  

If any of this has resonated with you, I offer my empathy and support. I’d love to hear from you about your experiences with workplace culture. Please share your story in the comments below.

If you are interested in learning more about being a transcriptionist, I recommend the free course that I took at If you are ready to take the leap and become a transcriptionist, I think the best training you can get is the General Transcription Course from

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