OPINION21 November 2022

We aren’t there yet: Diversity is lacking in market research

Inclusion Opinion

Diverse recruitment, ongoing investment and benchmarks are key to tackling the lack of diversity in the industry, says Scott McDonald.

Diverse workplace

The 2020 Census revealed that the US population is more diverse than ever. Approximately 38% identify as part of a minority group today, and more than half are projected to by 2044. The diverse population is increasing in Europe as well as with immigration rates rising: in 2020 alone, almost two million people immigrated to the EU. 

However, a recent review of the current state of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the market research industry shows that serious issues remain in creating representational workplaces. 

While the last several years saw a boost in diversity hires, black and Hispanic groups are still under-represented in market research when compared to general marketing and the overall US labour force.

There is even less representation in more senior positions. For executive roles in market research companies, ethnic minorities and women made up just 12% and 36%, respectively.  This is also true in Europe, as 56% of individuals surveyed in the advertising and marketing industry feel there isn’t equal opportunity. The picture worsens among respondents who are young, female and from black backgrounds, who are much more likely to feel a lack of equality in treatment, support and opportunity in their organisation.

DEI and revenue and retention
This is a missed opportunity, given research indicates that a commitment to DEI correlates with increased profitability and productivity. In fact, McKinsey’s analysis found that the “greater the representation, the higher the likelihood of outperformance” and the lower the diversity, the higher the likelihood to underperform. Companies in the bottom quartile for both gender and ethnic diversity were 27% more likely to underperform on profitability than all other companies in the data set.

McKinsey also found that a sense of inclusion is strongly linked with employee engagement, and Gallup research shows that employee engagement is strongly linked to performance outcomes, such as retention, productivity, safety and profitability. Business units with engaged workers have 23% higher profit compared with business units with miserable workers.  Indeed  unhappy employees are estimated to cost the global economy $7.8 trillion annually.  Employee happiness may be contagious in that businesses with thriving workers see higher customer loyalty. 

Three tips for good DEI
DEI in the workplace takes work: there is no one-size-fits-all model and you can’t employ a set-it-and-forget-it strategy. Here are three ways to get started.

  1. Diversity recruitment

Develop a recruiting pipeline of diverse talent through internships and connections with organisations. Programmes like ARF Wide are designed to fuel diverse talent pipelines and education for diverse students through donations. Commit to hiring diverse entry-level talent by widening your hiring pool through relationships with educational institutions  focused on getting a more diverse set of graduates through the talent pipeline.

When it comes down to the actual hiring, appoint “bias watchers”, which are respected leaders trained to call out unconscious bias in talent-related discussions related to both hiring and promotion processes. For example, CSR Europe’s Business Uniting Talents 2030 assesses corporate DEI practices and processes in European businesses, and aims to open up talent pipelines to create more inclusive workforces.

From a recruitment marketing perspective, ensure that your website, images and leadership profiles reflect the diversity your company is seeking. Use diverse job posting boards to source and attract diverse candidates. Reel in diverse candidates through job descriptions highlighting creative and inclusive benefits and perks designed for a diverse workforce. Estee Lauder is one brand that does a great job of illuminating its commitment to DEI on both its careers and commitments pages on its website, explaining that its culture “values diversity of thought and people, and encourages creativity, innovation and integrity in everything we do”.

  1.                Ongoing investment in diversity

Where many companies go wrong is establishing DEI policies and then not optimising them. Leaders must be open to feedback and dialogue among their diverse populations to see what’s working and what’s not. Listen to and learn from colleagues across the organisation and enlist senior executives as sponsors of the cause so there is both a bottom-up and top-down approach.

There’s also the planning and strategy component. Document what’s already being done to foster diversity and inclusion in your workplace, and develop and communicate an action plan to improve upon it going forward. It may take a few years to achieve full inclusivity, so set milestones along the way, such as hitting targets for representation at the executive level. Build “actionable learning teams” – small groups that work on well-defined problems to develop creative, flexible solutions – to spearhead your DEI effort.

  1.                Establish benchmarks for measuring progress

Every initiative must be measured to gauge its success or failure. For DEI, it’s important to not be too internally focused and to track your progress against competitors and other businesses in your region. Think beyond measuring gender and race, which indicate only whether you have a problem, and instead focus on process metrics that tell you exactly where to focus to bring about meaningful change. You’ll want to track this performance quarterly and annually, just like you would revenue targets.

Amid the remote work revolution, there is ample opportunity for organisations to implement more diverse, equitable and inclusive practices to attract, engage and retain employees. Doing so will not only help improve employee happiness and productivity and, as a result, company performance, but also society at large.

 Scott McDonald is president and chief executive at the Advertising Research Foundation