By Dr. Chris Dayley and Dr. Isidore Dorpenyo
The identity of technical communication is inextricably linked to the workplace (academic, domestic, and organizational or corporate workplaces). This is evident in the genres primarily associated with technical communication: proposals, reports, memos, technical documentation or instructions, computer help files, blogs, voter documents, and many others.
In introduction to technical communication classrooms, instructors train students to become good communicators who will write clear, concise, effective, and efficient documents in their various workplaces. Often, technical communication instructors create a distinction between writing that takes place in a corporate or organizational setting (aka technical writing) and academic writing (aka composition). Kimball (2006) wrote that “most of what we recognize as technical communication begins and ends with corporate, government, or organizational agendas” (p. 67). He further showed how textbook definitions “introduce technical writing as a workplace skill” (p. 68). Similarly, Constantinides, St.Amant, and Kampf (2001) revealed how technical and professional communication “often takes place within a larger organizational structure–one that inevitably impacts the kinds of documents produced…” (p. 31).
Considering our historical affinity to organizations and corporate workplaces, it does not come as a surprise that several scholars in our field are interested in researching the workplace (Cox, 2019; Dush, 2017; Edenfield, 2017; Edwards, 2018; Evia & Patriarca, 2012; Longo, 2000; Petersen & Moeller, 2016; Spinuzzi, 2014, 2015; Wisniewski, 2018). However, despite the many articles addressing technical communication in the workplace, the exigency for this special issue was our concern that, despite the abundance of scholarship exploring the roles of technical communicators in organizations and different workplaces or workspaces, little research has been done regarding the state of diversity in the professional practice of technical and professional communication in the U.S. and across the globe.
Though the amount of scholarship is limited, we do have some information regarding the state of diversity in the technical communication workplace. In Carliner and Chen’s 2018 Intercom article, “Who Technical Communicators Are: A Summary of Demographics, Backgrounds, and Employment,” the authors reported findings of a census of technical communicators taken in the early 2000’s. The census found that, at the time, 81% of practicing technical communicators who responded identified as white. This finding confirms Walton, Moore, and Jones’ (2019) claim that one of the main concerns for our field is that “TPC remains predominantly white and patriarchal and there is an inclusion and representation problem in TPC” (p. 2).
Technical communication has seen increased scholarly interest in issues of diversity and inclusion. Most research regarding increasing diversity and inclusion in our field has focused specifically on academic programs. Jones, Savage, and Yu (2015); Savage and Mattson (2011); and Savage and Matveeva (2011) have shown that issues of diversity and inclusion are important, but the field has a long way to go before we can fully understand the ways in which exclusive practices affect the field.
More recent scholarship regarding diversity and inclusion in the field of technical communication includes the use of decolonial frameworks in technical communication scholarship (Itchuaqiyaq & Matheson, 2021), student perceptions of diversity in their technical communication academic programs (Dayley, 2020), how students from diverse background have difficulty discovering the field (Dayley & Walton, 2018), the importance of building interpersonal relationships with prospective students and increasing program inclusivity (Alexander & Walton, 2022), how technical communication scholars can collaborate with translation experts to design communication materials for multilinguals (Gonzales, 2022), how current “recruitment efforts alone may not be enough to more suitably engage with the interests and needs of diverse student populations” (Popham, 2016, p. 73), as well as Cana Itchuaqiyaq’s excellent multiply marginalized and underrepresented scholars bibliography (Itchuaqiyaq, 2021, June 7).
These studies; and ongoing concerns regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in workplaces that employ technical communicators; beg several questions:What are the current demographics of practicing technical communicators in the U.S. and in European countries? In what ways do technical communicators contribute to DEI efforts in the Global North and the Global South? What steps are technical communicators taking to make workplaces inclusive and supportive of diverse people and ideas around the world?
Technical communication practitioners and scholars need to understand the state of diversity as practiced in organizations (both in the academy and outside of the academy) as this information will highlight what technical communicators are doing well and where improvements can be made. This research is also needed to inform academics and practitioners about strategies professional technical communicators are employing to increase diversity and to assess whether these strategies are successful or effective. With this type of research, academics will be better able to train students to become effective practitioners who are ready to take action and contribute to diversity initiatives in organizations, and practitioners will be able to learn from the experiences of others to incorporate better diversity and inclusion initiatives into their practice. This special issue, thus, seeks to highlight the experiences and practices of professional technical communicators as they relate to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
In This Special Issue
The articles in this special issue (Part 1 of 2 issues) continue conversations in technical and professional communication that advance the notion that technical documents are imbued with culture, discrimination, politics, racism, and oppression (Jones & Williams, 2018; Walwema & Carmichael, 2021). In other words, the scholars provide examples of how workplace technical documents are not neutral, colorblind, or apolitical. In putting this special issue together, we solicited ideas and articles in the form of practitioner reflections, interviews, case studies, tutorials, and applied research—regarding the state of diversity in technical communication workplaces; connecting diversity and inclusion research to practice; the use of inclusive language in professional practice; the role of technical communicators in implementing DEI initiatives, and how DEI initiatives have been implemented in technical communication departments and workplaces.
In her article, Kristin Bennet reveals how job ads are a site of injustice. Kristin interrogates ableist ideologies maintained, produced, and reproduced in medical insurance job advertisements and DEI statements using critical discourse analysis and thematic coding to analyze normative assumptions embedded in the job ad and DEI statements of four Blue Cross Blue Shield national sites: Massachusetts, Tennessee, Michigan, and Rhode Island. She reveals that “although companies may articulate appreciation for diversity in their DEI statements, they may undermine such commitments by using ableist language and assumptions.” The article concludes with recommendations for how technical and professional communicators can intervene in unjust organizational practices through what she terms “coalitional recruitment strategies.”
Dong and Gao present the state of diversity among technical communication practitioners in China. Because China is an ethnically homogeneous country, they did not focus on the Western centric definition of diversity which focuses mainly on race, ethnicity, gender, or demography. Rather, they defined diversity “holistically,” a perspective which considers “the full spectrum of human differences, a developmental perspective to connect the past, present, and future of the field, and a critical perspective to understand historical, social, and cultural factors that affect working experience.” This definition helps the field to think differently about conversations about diversity. The authors indicate that diversity should be about a recognition of the “presence of differences in the workplace.” The authors surveyed members of two professional associations: Technical Communication Alliance (TCA) and Technical Communicators of China (TCC), to reveal diversity in terms of gender, work experience, places of employment, the documents they design, and their salary ranges.
Jamal-Jared Alexander provides a descriptive reflection of his role in establishing a grassroots affinity movement, Graduate Students of Color Association (GSCA), at Utah State University to support MMU graduate employees. He helps us to understand that programs should not only see graduate students as professionalizing scholars, but also as employees of higher education. He reminds TPCers to create cultural spaces for professionalizing scholars while centering their lived experiences and their need for belonging. By creating cultural spaces, we can support MMU graduate students to overcome structural barriers in the workplace.
Moore, Amidon, and Simmons offer a four-step process that practitioners, scholars, and administrators can deploy in order to envision and enact contextually specific tactical actions to redress inequality and exclusion in TPC workplaces and programs. They advise TPCers to take actionable steps to create inclusive workplaces. They advise that if one encounters moments of injustice, that individual should be able to: 1) define the challenge; 2) engage in how the challenge affects stakeholders; 3) identify their margin of maneuverability; and 4) act based on their individualized abilities or think about creating a coalition. Before they offer their four-step process, they help readers to appreciate the distinction between equity, inclusion, and justice. As they argue, if we continue to conflate the terms, we will struggle to move from talking about these terms in abstractions to enacting actionable and practical steps.
Does location or geographic region affect DEI practices in any way? Bay, Craig, and Masters-Wheeler conduct qualitative interviews of four technical communicators to interrogate the relationship between location and DEI practices. Two of the interviewees who worked in rural communities reported lack of diversity and this is reflected in management, while those who lived and worked in urban areas noticed that the diverse nature of the community encouraged DEI practices at the workplace. The authors also reveal how work modality (in-person or remote) affected workers’ perception of DEI practices. The authors conclude with practical steps that can enhance DEI practices in the workplace.
As technical and professional communicators, our focus on user advocacy can and should inspire both practitioners and academics to lead the way in inclusion efforts. As a field with advocacy as its core mandate, technical and professional communication can play a vital role in justice causes that work to enact change in communities because the field of TPC interfaces with audiences, perhaps more than any other discipline as a consequence of its advocacy and discursive practices (Agboka & Dorpenyo, 2022, p. 6). Also, the type of advocacy done by technical communication research can and should lead to action (Walton, Moore, & Jones, 2019). Scholarship such as the articles found in this special issue represents a beginning to understanding how technical communicators can create more inclusive documents in more diverse workplaces.
Agboka, G. Y., & Dorpenyo, I. K. (2022). The Role of Technical Communicators in Confronting Injustice—Everywhere. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 65(1), 5-10.
Alexander, J. J., & Walton, R. (2022). Relational recruiting: Using Black feminist theory to inform graduate recruiting strategies. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 65(1), 164-178.
Carliner, S., & Chen, Y. (2018). Who technical communicators are: A summary of demographics, backgrounds, and employment. Intercom, 65(8), 8-12.
Cox, M. B. (2019). Working closets: Mapping queer professional discourses and why professional communication studies need queer rhetorics. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 33(1), 1-25.
Constantinides, H., St. Amant, K., & Kampf, C. (2001). Organizational and intercultural communication: An annotated bibliography.Technical Communication Quarterly,10(1), 31-58.
Dayley, C. (2020). Student perceptions of diversity in technical and professional communication academic programs. Technical Communication Quarterly, 29(1), 49-69. DOI:10.1080/10572252.2019.1635210
Dayley, C., & Walton, R. (2018). Informing efforts to increase diversity: Academic programs and student motivation in technical and professional communication. Programmatic Perspectives, 10(2), 5-47.
Dush, Lisa (2017). “Nonprofit collections of digital personal experience narratives: An exploratory study.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 31(2), 188-221.
Edenfield, A. C. (2017). Power and communication in worker cooperatives: An overview. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 47(3), 260-279.
Edwards, J., (2018). Race and the workplace. In Key theoretical frameworks: Teaching technical communication in the twenty-first century (pp. 268-286). Univ. Press Colorado.
Evia, C., & Patriarca, A. (2012). Beyond compliance: Participatory translation of safety communication for Latino construction workers. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 26(3), 340–367.https://doi.org/10.1177/10506519 12439697
Gonzales, L. (2022). (Re) Framing Multilingual Technical Communication with Indigenous Language Interpreters and Translators. Technical Communication Quarterly, 31(1), 1-16.
Itchuaqiyaq, C. U., & Matheson, B. (2021). Decolonizing decoloniality: Considering the (mis) use of decolonial frameworks in TPC scholarship.Communication Design Quarterly Review,9(1), 20-31.
Jones, N., Savage, G., & Yu, H. (2014). Editorial: Tracking our progress: Diversity in technical communication programs. Programmatic Perspectives, 6(1), 132-152.
Jones, N. N., & Williams, M. F. (2018). Technologies of disenfranchisement: Literacy tests and black voters in the US from 1890 to 1965.Technical Communication,65(4), 371-386.
Kimball, M. A. (2006). Cars, culture, and tactical technical communication.Technical Communication Quarterly,15(1), 67-86.
Longo, B. (2000). Spurious coin: A history of science, management, and technical writing. SUNY Press.
Petersen, E. J., & Moeller, R. M. (2016). Using antenarrative to uncover systems of power in mid-20th century policies on marriage and maternity at IBM. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 46(3), 362-386.
Popham, S. (2016). Disempowered minority students: The struggle for power and position in a graduate professional writing program. Programmatic Perspectives, 8(2), 72-95.
Savage, G., & Mattson, K. (2011). Perceptions of racial and ethnic diversity in technical communication programs. Programmatic Perspectives, 3(1), 5-57.
Savage, G., & Matveeva, N. (2011). Toward racial and ethnic diversity in technical communication programs: A study of technical communication in historically black colleges and universities and tribal colleges and universities in the United States. Programmatic Perspectives, 3(1), 152-179.
Spinuzzi, C. (2015). All edge. In All Edge. University of Chicago Press.
Spinuzzi, C. (2014). How nonemployer firms stage-manage ad hoc collaboration: An activity theory analysis. Technical Communication Quarterly, 23(2), 88-114.
Walton, R., Moore, K. R., & Jones, N. N. (2019). Technical communication after the social justice turn: Building coalitions for action. Routledge.
Walwema, J., & Arzu Carmichael, F. (2021). “Are You Authorized to Work in the US?” Investigating “Inclusive” Practices in Rhetoric and Technical Communication Job Descriptions.Technical Communication Quarterly,30(2), 107-122.
Wisniewski, E. C. (2018). Novice engineers and project management communication in the workplace. Technical Communication, 65(2), 153-168.
About the Guest Editors
Dr. Chris Dayley is an assistant professor of English and director of the Master of Arts in Technical Communication program at Texas State University. His research interests include social justice, ethics, and issues of diversity and inclusion in technical and professional communication academic programs. Chris’ work has appeared in Programmatic Perspectives, Technical Communication Quarterly, and Communication Design Quarterly.
Dr. Isidore K. Dorpenyo is Associate Professor of English at George Mason University. His research focuses on election technology, international technical communication,social justice, and localization. He is the author of the book:User-localization Strategies in the Face of Technological Breakdown. He has co-guest edited two special issues: “Enacting Social Justice” forIEEE Transactions on Professional Communicationand “Technical Communication, Civic Engagement, and Election Technologies” forTechnical Communication. He has published inTechnical Communication Quarterly, Community Literacy Journal, the Journal of Business and Technical Communication,Technical Communication,IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication,Programmatic Perspectives, and theJournal of Technical Writing and Communication.