FEATURE5 November 2012

Balance of power

Women are well represented at the junior and mid-levels of the research industry – but not higher up. What can be done? Brian Tarran chairs a debate.

In April the UK government published a report on ‘Women in public life, the professions and the boardroom’. We wanted to look at where the market research industry stood in comparison with other sectors but there wasn’t much data to hand.

In the US, Kristin Luck, president of Decipher, faced similar challenges. Luck is the founder of the Women in Research (WIRe) networking group and was herself keen to start a debate on the topic.

“Research, as an industry, has typically been dominated by women,” she said, “but I noticed that as you get more and more senior in rank, women tend to drop out to some extent and many – if not most – of the senior management positions in some larger companies are men. That piqued my curiosity as a researcher and I was interested in finding out what was going on.”

Research teamed up with WIRe and Lieberman Research Worldwide to field an online survey lasting 15 minutes. We recruited via market research mailing lists and social media platforms – including our own – in June and July and ended up with 605 completed surveys in total, of which 335 were men and 270 women. Data was weighted to a 45:55 male-to-female ratio estimated by Quirk’s, a US trade publication.

What our research suggests:

There is disparity between men and women in our sample

  • At the junior/mid-level average income for men is $74k compared to $66k for women. At the senior level, the corresponding figures are $161k and $141k
  • The industry appears to be predominantly female ( 67% to 33% male) at a junior/mid-level, but skews increasingly male ( 53% to 47% female) as we move up the ladder
  • 43% of women feel uncomfortable asking for a raise and 31% think their compensation is not competitive, compared with 31% and 19% of men

Disparity does not appear to be caused by overt discrimination. Rather, life factors that affect men and women differently play a role

  • Neither men nor women feel they are being discriminated against and are evenly satisfied with their careers
  • Children and the family become an obstacle for many women inadvancing their career, motivation and opportunity
  • Mothers do not feel that pregnancy is supported by their employers

One fifth of our sample work for female chief executives. Increasing the number of women CEOs might have significant benefits

  • Satisfaction is higher among those working for female CEOs ( 67%) versus male CEOs ( 54%)
  • Female CEOs are considered to be more supportive of pregnancy among their employees than male CEOs ( 72% to 56%)

These are just the headline stats. The full report is available here.

Commissioning the research and collecting the data was just the beginning. Afterwards we pulled together a group of successful female researchers, entrepreneurs and business leaders to chew over the findings, offer their interpretations and share their own personal experiences of what it’s like to be a woman in research.

The Expert Panel (left to right):

Kristin Luck, president of Decipher and founder of Women in Research

Kirsty Fuller, co-founder of Flamingo

Phyllis Macfarlane, chairman of GfK NOP and of the Market Research Society

Barbara Langer, head of customer insights for eBay Europe

Deborah Mattinson, co-founder of Britain Thinks and World Thinks

Research: Let’s start this debate by looking at the broader issue of representation. Women would appear to feature prominently at junior to mid-level positions, but their numbers seem to decline the more senior you go. Why would that be?

Kristin Luck (KL): A lot of the women I see that are in research have a social science or psychology background, which seems to skew – at least in the United States – a little more female. I don’t know if there’s something about the social sciences that are more appealing to women. But certainly that’s what drew me to the industry: a curiosity about how people think and what goes into the decision making process.

58% of women list their primary job function as quantitative or qualitative research and analysis, client management or project management compared with 30% of men

Deborah Mattinson (DM): If you look at the detail of what people define their job as, men are less likely to define it through traditional research craft skills than women are. So women are attracted to research in the first instance, I think, because of the craft skills and later on, as people get more senior, the job changes – and that’s where women perhaps feel a little bit less comfortable and perhaps men are more prepared to leap in at that point.

Phyllis Macfarlane (PM): It did disappoint me that women define themselves as researchers and not as senior executives. I think that women need to take more of an interest in the business side of things if they want to become more senior in their organisations.

KL: But as an industry, there really is no focus on general business coaching. If you go to a conference, there’s never any sessions on business development strategies or operational management. We do need more training on business and management skills, which are maybe less intuitive for some people.

DM: Both men and women would benefit from that.

45% of men list their primary job function as senior management or executive, or sales and business development, compared with 20% of women

Barbara Langer (BL): One thing that’s also really interesting is that women are far less likely to ask for a pay rise and they’re also far less likely to ask for additional areas of responsibility than men are. I don’t know why that would be – if that’s just female nature maybe – but that must be something that’s preventing them progressing to senior positions.

Kirsty Fuller (KF): I think some of it must be to do with the culture created within certain companies, where it’s very easy for women to remain involved in the craft skills and men to move on to other business areas.

DM: It’s also a confidence thing as well. Women tend to value themselves less and suffer from imposter syndrome in a way that men don’t – not just in our industry, but in others too.

Research: Let’s talk about the issue of pay for a moment. Our sample suggests women might be being paid less than their male counterparts. What do you make of that?

PM: I must say, as a female CEO who has gone to a lot of trouble to make sure that we don’t have disparity in salaries, I’m surprised.

KL: I’m not, to be honest with you. In the US at least, women are paid 77 cents to the dollar that men are, for the exact same work.

DM: And as we were saying earlier, men are often doing different jobs. If you look into the detail of the data, it seems that the men in the sample have more direct reports for example and they’re working longer hours. They’re less likely to be doing the craft skills, they’re more likely to be doing jobs that are about general management strategy. So I don’t think it’s that surprising.

BL: But also women are just less motivated by money – that came out as well. If people are less motivated by money, they’re less likely to ask for pay rises.

KL: For younger women that are starting out in the industry it’s really important to make sure that there is parity in terms of compensation right from the beginning because if women are hesitant to negotiate higher pay, starting at even a slightly lower salary can compound significantly over a career.

Weekly hours at work

Research: One of the positive things that did come out of this survey was the reported increase in job satisfaction scores under senior female executives. That’s an argument for why it’s important to make sure that women are represented at a senior level, isn’t it?

KF: That’s a fascinating finding and I want to understand more about why that should be. Are they just better at people management generally? Do they invest more time in people?

DM: It may also be that women are running different sorts of organisations.

80% of companies headed by female CEOs were private firms, and 57% were small businesses. For male CEOs, the figures are 74% and 36% respectively

KL: But there’s also the McKinsey Organisational Index to consider, which has found that firms with three or more women in top positions score higher than their peers in terms of financial success. And then there’s Catalyst, a non-profit that’s focused on expanding opportunities for women in business. Their research has found a 26% boost in return on invested capital in companies with lots of women on their boards versus companies with no women. So I do think that there’s an advantage to having a more diversified board and a more diversified management structure than what we typically see in a lot of research firms.

29% of women have more than four direct reports, compared with 49% of men

PM: I think there are clues in the work-life balance data that women somehow seem to be creating a more palatable company for people to work in.

Research: Do you get the sense that men and women want different things from the workplace?

KL: What women want is aligned with what men want – I just think that women have historically been more willing than men to leave a workplace that doesn’t meet their needs. Women are making really rational decisions to guard their personal time, and given the choice between two equivalent positions – one that’s well paid but with no flexibility and one that’s maybe less well paid but has more flexibility – more women are consciously opting for the latter. So that might be contributing to the wage gap.

KF: Really, we have to think about how we create working environments that are conducive to a healthy family life for men and women. I’ve had three people who’ve joined Flamingo who have left other companies because they felt they’d become too mumsy – where if you didn’t have a child you felt you were discriminated against because it was always OK for mothers to leave early and have everybody else pick up the pieces. People are looking for fairness, and we need to support both fathers and mothers. If we do that, we’ve probably got a better chance of women staying in the workplace.

Research: The advertising industry often holds a mirror up to itself to ask how representative it is of wider society so that it’s better able to sell to all types of consumers. Similarly, does the research industry need to reflect society so it can understand society?

KF: Well, you don’t want to be looking at brand, cultural and social issues through just one lens. Inevitably, we do bring the gender lens into play – we try not to, but we do – so it’s important to have diversity within a company.

KL: Diversity leads to better products and results – and we’ve seen that in our own company. Women do have different life experience and a different perspective than men do and if you ignore that perspective, then you’re missing a pretty big slice of life. For instance, if you’ve ever been to an Apple Store you’ll know there’s a glass staircase and a sitting area directly below it. So if you’re walking up the glass stairs in a skirt, anyone in the sitting area below can see directly up your dress. Those are things that women think about from a design perspective.

BL: I can back that up. Working at eBay, if you walk past the engineering folks you’ll notice that it’s all male. So one of the things that we’re deciding to focus on much more overtly is the female shopper and we’re trying to bring that to life through an internal communications campaign. At the moment, slightly more men than women shop on eBay. But for online shopping generally, it’s skewed more female and we know that in the future, the majority of spend is going to be coming from women so we have to start understanding that target much better.

Thanks to Women in Research and Lieberman Research Worldwide for their work designing, fielding and analysing the survey.



8 years ago

Can we please drop this topic of argument in our industry? Please? Truly, women, this only further diminishes the respect for yourselves beyond gender roles. The question of sex in relation to senior executives and entrepreneurs is a dated one. It has now evolved, as you see here, into a dull PR slag. This debate exists in every single industry. Find other ways to differentiate yourself and supersede the norm as it exist today but try not to use your gender as an excuse to justify or admonish your success in whatever caliber it may be.

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8 years ago

It's something I've always felt our industry did better than others (using my company as an example there is a real mix at senior level between the genders). It's sad to hear this might not be the case elsewhere. I truly hope one day we can talk about the calibre of the person in the role, rather than the gender.

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8 years ago

Ponder this: How many all male panels have you seen at conferences? How many all female panels have you seen? Have you ever seen a panel where women out-numbered the men? I have no idea why it's like that but it's worth seeing what YOU can do to balance things out.

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8 years ago

MayI suggest that the data be re-segmented first along number of reports, claimed hours worked, years in that role etc, and then analysed by gender and we would get a clearer view of gender difference.

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8 years ago

These comments are well said. Let there be a better reason for recognition.

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8 years ago

Women have babies. Women take career breaks to look after their children. It's obvious innit? Take two people of equal ability, one works for 5 years and then returns to work 5 years later. The other works continuously for 10 years. Who do you think is likely to hold the most senior position and get paid the greater salary in year 10/12/14 etc?

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8 years ago

1. I'd like to strongly second Annie Petit's comment about representation at conferences - a great point and something that's struck me this week at ESOMAR. Part of this is about women in research putting ourselves forward to speak - yes. But it also requires conference organisers to recognise this is an issue and take proactive steps themselves to widen their talent pools beyond the usual (male) suspects. And men have a role to play as well - if invited on to an all-male panel, can you recommend a relevant woman to the organiser as well to help expand the discussion? If you don't know a relevant woman, what mentoring are you doing within your own organisation to ensure your female colleagues have the opportunity to develop speaking skills? 2. Men and women asking for a payrise aren't necessarily viewed equally, because managers interpret each request through existing cultural norms & therefore gender stereotypes. So a man asking for a big raise is "assertive" - but a woman may be regarded as "pushy". Again, the solution isn't simply about impelling women to ask for more - managers also need to be taking steps to interrogate their fairness of their decision-making, and companies monitoring patterns at the overall level. 3. A bit more consideration of the fact that children have two parents, not just one. Roll on shared parental leave rather than maternity leave - let's see what this does for equality in the workplace. 4. We should also be thinking about ethnic and racial diversity in research - plus all diversity's other dimensions. A bunch of white people talking about the emerging Asian consumer - hmm. But that is another article!

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8 years ago

"I have no idea why it's like that but it's worth seeing what YOU can do to balance things out." But that's precisely the level of debate we've seen both in this industry and elsewhere. "Why does this problem exist?" "we have no idea but we must solve it". It just doesn't work! The broad reasons for under-representation of women in senior levels of industry have been debated for years, and a general consensus has emerged. It seems, on the surface at least, that women's focus shifts more than men's when they have kids - whereas many men still have sufficient desire to compromise their family lives in pursuit of seniority, women aren't generally prepared to make those sacrifices. Whether this is 'right' or 'wrong' is beyond me, but the idea of positive discrimination is a tricky one. If it leads to less-qualified panel composition (for example) then it's a step backwards; the trick is to ensure both that women are included to an appropriate level *AND* that panel standards remain high. As such, it's a structural issue within the industry, not a simple fix for (for example) panels.

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8 years ago

What we are seeing is proof that many people do not believe in evidence. Nobody doubts the evidence, women are under-represented at both the senior and the 'fun' level (e.g. conferences), but a variety of people argue against action. For me the key issues is that if a process is not fair (i.e. the outcomes are not fair) then it is hard to fix it by tweaking the rules, usually a bigger change is necessary. The question is not how to make it easier for women to win in the current system; it is about changing the system. I would be happy to see legislation that said something like 50% of all C-suite positions within a company had to be male and 50% female. Companies would very quickly work out to a) increase the number of suitably qualified candidates, and) b) change their practices to make them equitable. A revised form of employment that was fair might turn out to be a better working environment for both men and women, and a better one for our spouses and children.

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8 years ago

Am I the only person that would find a male colleague mentoring me or inviting me to conferences purely to even out the gender balance extremely patronising? As a young girl fairly new to market research, it saddens me to think that this could be the case. In my company I am encouraged to work hard and shine as an INDIVIDUAL, not just as a female. I would hope that this is not something I am not alone in experiencing! In terms of what YOU can do to help the future generation of female researchers – you can stop focusing on their gender and simply encourage them, teach them and inspire them!

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