Attraction and Retention of Female Leadership

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Gender diversity is a topic of much debate in almost every industry, not only within market research. What can be done to attract more women and promote them to leadership roles?

According to the 7th annual cross-industry staff satisfaction survey conducted by Asia Research in December 2015, women tend to be less represented in the market research industry as the job roles become more senior.

In more junior positions, such as that of Researcher or Senior Researcher, women are slightly higher represented; there is a 56/44% split between women and men in these roles respectively. But at Associate Director level, the majority shifts to male workers, with a 45/55% split. The divide only becomes more pronounced at Managing Director level, with a whopping 31/69% split.

But this gender divide is far from helpful for the industry; in fact, it is likely to be damaging it. Research by global consulting firm McKinsey has shown that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have higher financial returns than the industry average, suggesting that companies that choose to actively tackle gender inequality could actually be financially better off.

Why the divide?

The possible reasons for the gender discrepancy are numerous and complex, but there are some common trends to be noted. Women in Research investigated gender issues in the market research industry and found that 60% of the women they surveyed felt that having children limited their career opportunities, and very few women felt that their employer would significantly support them during their pregnancy. This strongly suggests that insufficient maternity planning and childcare could be a significant obstacle to women who want to have both a career and a family, and may raise the chances of these women leaving the industry altogether.

Similarly, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) suggests that many women perceive positions of greater responsibility as being less compatible with their family life, and so may not put themselves forward for these higher profile positions.

The BCG also claims that the management styles typically used by women may be falsely interpreted as being less effective and thus lead to fewer promotions. Furthermore, women may face more problems than men when it comes to self-promotion. Partner and managing director of the Copenhagen office of the BCG, Mai-Britt Poulsen, states that “men are more likely to knock on the door and talk up their accomplishments, while women tend to believe that job performance alone will lead to greater seniority”.

All of these issues can combine to create a perfect storm for gender inequality – for many women, it is difficult to find a way past these obstacles because there is a lack of female role models blazing the trail.

How to attract and retain female leaders

So what can be done to reduce the gender gap? McKinsey recommends that companies start by identifying where the problem originates for them – “many organizations are afflicted by one of three common pipeline pain points: women are unable to enter, stuck at the middle, or locked out of the top”.

Companies with not enough women applicants can take certain steps – such as bias training and application screening. They can also make greater efforts to reach out to women at universities, to nurture talent and provide them with information about joining the market research industry after graduation. Employers who put in place better career planning, pay and training will provide new hires with a definite route of progression through their company and thus encourage promising candidates to enter the industry.

In companies that are able to hire diversely, women can still become stuck in entry-level positions and feel unable to progress to middle management. For these companies, it is important to examine the promotions process and give women training in becoming managers, as well as detailed feedback if they fail to achieve a promotion.

Even with these measures in place, getting women to rise through the ranks to the highest positions can still be difficult, and this is often because of family issues. Therefore, women need to be encouraged to return to the industry after having children. This can be achieved by having strong systems of support in place for maternity leave and childcare. Companies can also provide opportunities for flexible working, including provisions for working from home.

Awareness at every level

The priority for any industry wishing to close the gender gap is to encourage awareness of gender equality at all levels and at all stages of the hiring and promotions process. By encouraging gender diversity, companies open up a wider talent pool from which to hire, thus significantly improving their position in the wider industry.