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Women in Research 2019: Empowered Industry, Enlightened Insights

On the evening of 7th November 2019, I and a few of my work colleagues went to the second-ever Women in Research Manchester event. With none of us ever having been to a conference before, it was a lovely event to start off with and find out more about the insights industry and the professionals who work with us within it.

We found out seats, listened intently to some brilliant presentations, networked with the other attendees, and here is what we learnt. Here’s what three of our attendees took away from the event:

Diversity in the Insights Industry

Charlotte Evans — Research Executive

“For me, a particularly engaging discussion came from Ella Fryer-Smith, who advocated the research industry should be doing far more to increase its diversity of insight professionals. Ella rightly pointed out that insight professionals are expected to represent societies’ views, yet the composition of those working within our industry are yet to represent the diverse constructs of our own society.”

“For me, a particularly engaging discussion came from Ella Fryer-Smith, who advocated the research industry should be doing far more to increase its diversity of insight professionals.” — Charlotte Evans

As a way of tackling and improving our industry’s diversity, Ella suggested, as individuals, we should avoid falling into the patterns of our industry, but instead we should be looking for blind spots where diversity can be improved. I felt opening the conversation about diversity provided an extremely valuable reminder to us all, that we can all contribute to the improvement of our industry’s diversity. As a starting point, Ella shared several ways of ‘hacking’ issues surrounding diversity including the creation of new professional opportunities, exposing systems of vulnerability and embracing disruption within our workplaces. Positively, Ella also highlighted that there are huge benefits of having diverse teams within organisations particularly because these have proven to improve business results. Ella concluded her discussion by posing a question to us all, how can we apply hacking techniques to make our workplace more diverse?

Reflecting on this and the potential benefits of having a diverse professional workforce, I felt this was a conversation all workplaces should be having. I am fortunate to able to recognise the good practices of inclusivity advocated by FlexMR, particularly through the professional opportunities that have been offered to myself and colleagues. Last night’s WiRe event was just one, amongst the many, national and global opportunities that have been offered to FlexMR’s employees. Looking to the future of our industry and as the conversation about diversity continues, I’m sure we can expect to see a growth in positive stances towards creating an industry that is more diverse.

Specialised Skillsets and Continuous Learning

Sophie Grieve-Williams — Graphic Designer

“The Manchester WiRe event was not only a fun way to connect with others in market research, but also an extremely valuable evening especially for someone working as a designer within the industry. The evening consisted of brilliant talks from the likes of Gareth Hodgson, Ella Fryer-Smith and Emma Evans, who left me with questions, realisations, and a firmer set about my position within the insights industry.”

From a design standpoint, I found the questions I lingered on were how, as an evolving industry, we should be seeking to reposition the industry into accepting people of many skillsets, and particularly that of design. Market research has moved away from the pure data days and now we rely on a combination of transferrable skills. There’s a larger focus on storytelling and visual communication, film, data science, language skills, social media and many more aspects than ever before. And for that reason, we should be trying to open our industry to people with all different backgrounds and skillsets in order to have the most comprehensive output.

”From a design standpoint, the questions I lingered on were how, as an evolving industry, we should be seeking to reposition the industry into accepting people of many skillsets, particularly that of design.” — Sophie Grieve-Williams

Stemming from this point, it was also noted that the industry still isn’t diverse enough, as our work has influence on all walks of life, the industry should reflect that. Class, colour, gender, sexual orientation — we should seek to include and find our blind spots within market research so that we can keep working for the change. And by extension, have a look at how we market the insights industry. Are we showing it as a viable option to enough people? Should we be seeing more university courses targeted at market research? Can we throw in acts of rebellion to start a change in how the industry works?

My main takeaway from the whole experience was that I’m not alone in the fact that even now, I still have to ask for help, that it’s not only I who ‘fell’ into the insights industry, that the things that held me back (fear, procrastination, etc.), are almost universal experiences so we should stop doubting our skills, especially as women. That if we can learn from these experiences, we can create something beautiful and wonderful from our combined viewpoints. Much like how as a designer we create art from the insight, I think we can gain insight from the art of listening to the input of our peers.

Evolving Industries and Professionals

Emily James — Copywriter

“As a creative writing graduate, this past year has been a steep learning curve and I still feel a novice in an industry full of giants. But in this event I’ve learnt that a) that is not quite true (I have more of an understanding about the insights industry than I thought I did), b) everyone feels like that (imposter syndrome), and c) a lack of specific market research experience is something that the industry actually needs.”

Gareth Hodgson, the Director of Mustard Research explored the topic of the evolving industry, and in particular, how it needs an influx of people with specialist skills rather than generic researchers trying their hand at anything and everything. This is a generalised summary of what was a very thought-provoking and in-depth talk on the evolution of market research, researcher roles, and what we need to do in order to meet the current and future demand of clients looking for higher-quality and well-rounded reports, rather than providing a massive data dump in a PowerPoint as was expected and wanted by clients 20 years ago.

”After hearing the others talk about their proudest moments, the advice they would give, and the challenges that they face, they all told a clear common story of the life of an insight professional” — Emily James

After being hired because of my skills in creative writing rather than my experience in marketing, I found that premise particularly poignant. But I also learnt a lot from the creative networking session as well, chatting with other insight professionals who were stimulated with questions such as:

  • To be a researcher you need to be… [fill in the blank]
  • What are some of the challenges we face in the insights industry?
  • What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the industry?
  • What is your proudest moment/biggest achievement?

After hearing the others talk about their proudest moments, their advice that they would give, and the very similar challenges that they have all faced, the answers they gave told a clear story of the life of an insight professional; there is a clear north-south divide, where London is still regarded as the centre for reputable companies, and no matter how much clients want data, we still need to work hard to convince them of the worth of insights. There is much we need to solve in this industry, and we must work together to do so.

Final Mentions

The event was kindly organised by Mustard Research, and supported by Beam Fieldwork and Lucid, and we can’t thank them enough for putting on such a great event for our first ever conference! With two very thought-provoking talks and a thoroughly interactive creative networking event, we certainly left with more connections within the industry, more knowledge than when we came, and more certain of ourselves and our place within the insights industry.

The original version of this article appeared on the FlexMR Insight Blog and can be accessed here.

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