NEWS11 July 2023

‘Companies should put their money where their mouth is': More action needed on DEI

Inclusion News UK

UK – The market research industry has to act on pledges to increase diversity among its workforce and senior leadership if it is to make tangible progress on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), the Market Research Society’s (MRS’s) equality summit heard.


Speaking at the event on Wednesday 5th July, a panel session discussed the performance of the MRS inclusion pledge, which has seen around 100 signatories agree to improve representation and transparency in the research industry sinced it was launched in 2018.

Research into the MRS pledge’s performance, however, discussed at the conference, showed that only a third of signatories had responded to a survey request, which was heavily criticised by panel members at the summit.

Speaking in a panel session at the summit on the pledge’s impact, Mark Thorpe, board director at Truth, said there needed to be more ways that agencies who sign the pledge are held to account.

“There is a lot more we should be doing. There needs to be more triggers to connect back into the pledge, as otherwise it is something we do and potentially walk away from,” Thorpe said.

“Agencies need to think about what their role is and what their real commitment is, rather than their stated commitment.”

“There is a lot of goodwill, but a lack of understanding. I think there are still some challenges not just in how we recruit different people, but how we hold onto them.”

Georgie White, director of insight at Holland & Barrett, who chaired the panel, said: “While we are making progress, there is still plenty for us to do – our pace perhaps leaves a little to be desired as well”.

During the same discussion, Megan Cross, global head of inclusion and diversity at Kantar, said the industry was making significant progress in some areas, but lagging behind in tackling issues affecting other minority groups.

“The biggest challenge I have experienced in going from intention to action is around a lack of focus and accountability, and the pledge has certainly helped us with that,” Cross explained.

“It has given us that direction, but I find it is easier to talk about gender; we have the data to talk about gender and it is often a white-centric conversation, and that’s where we are making progress, as it is a comfortable conversation to have.

“But when you look at other elements of diversity, particularly disability, LGBTQ+ identities and minority ethnic identities, we are still quite a way behind. That’s for a whole multitude of factors, and I think the lack of data we have is certainly one of those. But I think there is also a lack of comfort and conversation around those identities.”

Cross added that part of the challenge was making leaders more aware of others’ lived experiences and using that to make beneficial changes for the long term, such as empowering talent acquisition and recruitment teams to readvertise roles if they lack diversity in the applicants.

“I think it is making leaders aware of the systemic biases that do exist,” Cross said.

“There is sometimes a sense of ignorance and complete obliviousness to how people have lived and experienced the barriers they have faced. We need to stop putting plasters over problems.”

Amina Arraleh, people operations director at Zappi, said there needed to be more action, such as companies including DEI as a company goal.

“The pledge has helped us be accountable for our goals when it comes to DEI. It also helps us hold our leadership team to account as well. Where it is lacking is it does feel like a box-ticking exercise, and I think that’s something most companies will be struggle with,” Arraleh stated.

“Because it is separate, there is not that much attention being paid to it – there’s not that much buy in, particularly from leadership. Real buy-in is when DEI is weaved into company goals, and it then becomes part of everything that company does. That’s when a company shows they are making the company more diverse. Companies should put their money where their mouth is.”

Nick Baker, global chief research officer at Savanta, told the panel that the pledge was a great framework, but the challenge now was to embed its aims in company practices. “The key thing is how do you make it endemically cultural in that’s how you’re looking to operate. That’s the responsibility of the business, not the responsibility of the pledge.”

Baker added: “You have got to have this continual improvement, focus and drive, and not let it get knocked off course. And making sure the decisions are always driven by the right set of criteria. There has to be an acceptance of difference that runs through everything we do.”

Also speaking at the summit, Kenny Imafidon, co-founder at ClearView Research and author of That Peckham Boy, told the audience about his experience of the criminal justice system and how it had influenced his approach to research.

He said that the industry needed to do more to reach minority groups and to make its practices more inclusive.

“Research is an extremely powerful enabler for us to tell stories and tell stories that are rooted in people’s lived experience,” Imafidon said.

“There are a lot of people who have never been asked ‘what do you think?’. For us, it was finding how to engage with people who other people call ‘hard to reach’, but whom they have not bothered to engage or not bothered to understand where they are coming from.”

Amazin LeThi, global LQBTQ+ advocate and health and fitness influencer, also spoke at the event, and recommended reverse mentoring, whereby senior leaders are mentored by people from a different background, as “they can get a sense on a really individual level of that person’s lived experience”.

She added: “I’d rather you ask and be honest and say you don’t know and need help than make an assumption and get it wrong.”