NEWS17 March 2021

‘Our industry has a superpower’: how insights leaders can promote D&I

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UK – The market research industry has a superpower – by immersing itself in the views and experiences of others it can push the cause of diversity and inclusion (D&I) further up the corporate agenda, according to a panel at MRS Impact 2021 conference. 


Babita Earle, executive vice-president of strategic partnerships at Zappi and chair of the Market Research Society’s D&I council, led the session, and said she knows “personally of the passion and commitment to drive diversity and inclusion” across the industry, both agency- and client-side.

“There is no question that it’s at the top of the corporate agenda in some form or another," she said.

Earle was joined on a virtual stage by Elaine Rodrigo, chief insights and analytics officer at Reckitt Benckiser; Christine Avallone, customer insights professional at Verizon; Michelle Gansle, senior director, foresight, innovation and growth insights at Mars Wrigley; and Jake Steadman, vice-president, customer insight and user research at Deliveroo.

Earle asked what the panellists’ organisations had been doing around diversity and inclusion.

“I don’t think Mars is perfect,” said Gansle. “But one thing we have going for us is that we’re a private, family-owned company that cares about diversity and inclusion.”

She referenced a D&I survey the company took part in in 2015, when it scored 60 out of 100, which marked a “wake-up call for the family and business”. It has since been putting a lot of energy into increasing that score and recently scored 100.

“We’ve got further in some places than others,” Gansle said. “In gender balance and minority representation we’re doing great. Further up the funnel we’ve got more work to do.”

Menwhile, Verizon has had an Innovative Learning scheme in place since 2012 that has reached around 450,000 students. It has also been running a fellowship programme that invites prospective recruits to spend eight months in New York to gain experience on the brand itself and with agency partners. The success rate has been 98% in terms of hiring participants.

“The objective of our chief marketing officer is to have more diverse representation in marketing and advertising roles,” Avallone said.

Deliveroo’s Steadman said that he has seen a growing “understanding of a more nuanced consumer landscape” over the past few years. 

“Conversations are now much more about specific and biased to action and understand different parts of communities and society and making sure we’re measuring the right things among the right people,” he said.

Reckitt Benckiser has had a D&I committee for a number of years, but Rodrigo has noted “a change in the last six-to-nine months with company leadership by the chief executive and chief HR officer bringing open conversations to the table”.

“Our industry has a superpower to some extent,” she said. “Most of us here have done research on people who are not like us. We’re trained to do that, to immerse ourselves in the views of others and bring it back to our organisation.”

Gansle called on agencies to help clients improve their D&I strategies.

“We need help from the supplier side, especially around quantitative,” she said. “By doing nationally representative research and looking for sameness and averages, you are by definition taking out minorities. I think we as companies need to give you permission to see the middle and the fringe.”

The issue of costs associated with promoting D&I can be prohibitively expensive and Earle asked the panel about how to soften the financial blow to budgets.

For Steadman, cost depends on how a business sets up internally to begin with. “Building supplier lists and building communities – if you do that up front, you won’t necessarily add time. [You'll add] some cost, but I’d argue that’s a good investment,” he said. 

“I also think less about a beginning and end of projects and more about how you develop over time.”

The session concluded with Earle asking: “What’s the one thing that the industry can do to accelerate so we represent all parts of society?” 

For Avallone, it’s language – “the language we all use, what language is universal, how do we talk about sensitive topics in a way that doesn’t just reach one, but reaches all?”

Collaboration is the new competition, according to Gansle. “Whether you’re a buyer or supplier, partnering together to solve issues and share case studies is the fastest way we’ll see improvement.”

As the single male panellist who admitted a nervousness around turning up on for the session, Steadman added: “From my perspective, we’ll effect the most change if people who look like me have the right kind of conversations. This is vital and important stuff.”

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