According to “Equality Can’t Wait,” It will take 208 years to accomplish gender equality in the U.S. alone, but it is clear that this is a global issue. A few weeks ago, we wrote about the Women Executives in Market Research white paper, authored by our CRO, JD Deitch, and released in partnership with Women in Research (WIRe). The study showed that a disproportionately small number of women hold executive level positions within the market research sector. As long-time supporters of WIRe – and diversity and gender equality – we think it’s high time that our industry stand up, take note and make the changes needed to provide women with the opportunities they need to succeed. As JD indicated in his paper, “It has been proven that people of diverse background, specifically women, bring tangible benefits to business.”

One of the only ways to do this is to provide clear, measurable initiatives that promote diversity and equality. While an ultimate goal could be to have these types of initiatives become part of a company’s KPIs, they should at the very least be included in strategic goals. In his paper, JD outlines eight key ways that companies can start to move the needle on bringing women into leadership roles. Originally summarized by management consultancy Ernst & Young (EY), these initiatives can help our industry also institute real change. 

  1. Mandatory disclosure. The company should have a concrete and public diversity policy, including measurable targets and a time period over which such targets will be achieved.
  2. Measurable targets over a defined time horizon. This concept is a mainstay in our industry: what gets measured gets managed.
  3. Management refreshment. As with boards, lengthy tenure in senior management can not only inhibit diversity, but can also lead to tunnel vision that inhibits a company’s evolution. In the boardroom, EY suggests that service be contingent on performance and re-election. Management rotation is another enlightened concept that creates more well-rounded executives.
  4. Nomination committees. Boards have nominating committees. It is reasonable to apply this idea to executive roles so that there are known criteria which explain how diverse candidates were considered in the hiring process. For example, McKinsey is now hiring for an internal recruiter for senior hires whose role will be to “help identify and attract Direct Elect senior level diverse talent to help sustain growth areas.” 
  5. Employee engagement. EY speaks of investors “engaging with boards on this subject to build mutual understanding and, where necessary, encourage change.” This concept is certainly transferable to employees. 
  6. Employee voting. EY writes of investors voting against company resolutions for poor diversity. Shall we have employees voting for or against the hiring of new executives? Probably not. But this could easily be shaped into a different kind of incentive, say, employees voting on executive bonuses based on management’s progress on diversity measures. 
  7. Positive recognition and… …Negative recognition. Naming and shaming drives change through public perception by shining a light on otherwise opaque practices.. 
  8. Professional development. Firms often neglect addressing the very important challenge of developing future leaders from within their ranks. Succession planning creates a bench that ensures a diverse and competent group of people is available for selection. Leadership programs can include everything from training to exposure to other executives to temporary assignments that allow the individual to gain the experience, vision, confidence, and poise needed to be successful. As part of a broader mentorship program, businesses would reap the additional benefits of increased employee engagement and lower turnover.

These are just a few of the things companies can, and should, implement in order to make meaningful progress toward diversity, particularly in leadership roles. We hope that if we do a follow-up study like this one – in fewer than 208 years – we can chart a measurable difference in our own industry when it comes to equality.