NEWS23 February 2021

‘We need to be part of the solution': research leaders on diversity

News Trends UK

Two years ago, the CEO Pledge was launched to promote and increase diversity. Last week, senior market research figures spoke on the CEO Pledge Panel to discuss the progress made and the challenges remaining. Liam Kay reports.

Defining representation
Increasing diversity can mean different things depending on where you are in the country. The 2011 census showed that approximately 13% of UK citizens were from black, Asian or minority ethnic (Bame) backgrounds or other ethnic minorities. However, this figure fluctuates depending on where you are located. For example, London is 40% Bame, while other UK cities are significantly less diverse.

Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos Mori, said that while gender disparity within the industry was changing rapidly, there was a lot more work needed to address issues around Bame representation in market research. “I do think there is an issue around ethnic diversity in the industry,” Page explained. “Are we trying to be representative of London, where many of us are based, or are we trying to be representative of the UK, which has a different racial profile? It will take time to get people promoted through the organisation. It is about the behaviours of lots of people inside the organisation at individual promotion points – we need to listen to our Bame staff.”

Bob Qureshi, chief executive and managing partner at I-view Studios and co-founder at Colour of Research (CoRe), said that all organisations had a duty to reflect their local areas. He said: “What is national representation and what is local representation? If you are in central London, you know that 40% of people that live in the area come from different ethnic backgrounds, so your firm ought to use that as a goal for what representation should be. But if you are in Durham or Newcastle, the numbers will be very different, but you can at least try to represent what is there for the region.”

Get recruitment right
Qureshi also called for blind recruitment, and highlighted figures from a CoRe research report carried out with Savanta called Black Lives Matter: Everywhere that indicates up to 26% of people from Bame backgrounds in the market research industry were considering departing. Blind recruitment, where names and other details are removed from CVs in the initial stages of the recruitment process, could rectify biases and provide interview opportunities to a more diverse range of people, he added. Then there needed to be more willingness to recruit people without academic qualifications who show promise, and proper support for staff from diverse backgrounds.

“A lot of people who come from deprived areas or other ethnic backgrounds may not have had the opportunity to take the route of going to university, but are incredibly smart people who could do very well in our organisations,” said Qureshi. “In the organisation, have a group of people who can continue to guide that group of people who have had an unfair start to the working world, and reduce the 26% who are thinking of leaving the industry.”

Steve Phillips, chief executive officer of Zappi, said the CEO Pledge had been a “moment of reflection” and a “good spark for us to speak to people internally, but also to reach out to the community”. He said that while the industry was very white and male, Zappi was working to improve that and was now getting a “diverse pool at the top of the funnel” in the recruitment process.

However, as the industry becomes more tech-focused, there was a risk that those changes could impact on diversity, with the tech industry being a historically white male dominated sector. Warren Saunders, president – global sales at GfK, said there was a huge amount still to do to prevent market research from developing further issues with recruitment and diversity as a result of the shift to a more tech-based model. “We are in danger as an industry of evolving into another space which is historically white and male,” Saunders argued.

Page added: “We are dominated by white graduates, and that has a bias in itself. We are in the measurement business, and ultimately what gets measured gets done – we can sign all the pledges we like, we can have all the networks that we like, but ultimately it is the gender and ethnic minority pay gap and the strategies you have to focus on it that will make the difference.”

Providing structure
The speakers discussed the need for structured programmes of work to make real change. Amy Cashman, chief executive – insights division at Kantar UK & Ireland, said that a three-pronged approach focused on talent, leadership and clients was needed to address a lack of diversity in market research. On clients, this meant working with companies in other sectors on diversity initiatives. “We have been trying to think about how we show what matters to us matters in the market,” she explained. “We have tried to do things that reflect our values as an organisation.”

Saunders said that transparency was vital to success in increasing diversity, as well as encouraging people to speak up and put their views across in the workplace. “What gets measured gets done, and we have been open and transparent in publishing all the statistics we have,” he said. “We have a diverse group of people coming into talk to us as a business setting.”

Qureshi, however, said that the industry had to make sure it showed initiative, highlighting how even tiny organisations with few staff could work on diversity by engaging with organisations such as MRS and CoRe. “We want to bring everyone on board, as the whole idea of inclusiveness is inclusiveness,” he said. “What we don’t want is to wait and be spoon-fed and told what to do – we need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

“If by this time next year we have 100-plus organisations signed up to the pledge, that will make a real impact within our industry and make sure our organisations look like what we see out in the street.”

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