It’s International Women’s Day and globally, women are in crisis. In the United State Reuters reported that, as of February of this year 2.5 million women had dropped out of the labor force due to the pandemic — nearly twice the number of men — and the unemployment rate of Black and minority workers measures disparately higher than that of their White counterparts. In a recent thought piece US Vice-President Kamala Harris noted that, while in February 2020, around 5 million women were business owners, “by April, 1 in 4 had closed their doors.” When it comes to mothers and caregivers a UK study found that mothers are more likely by 47% to have lost their jobs, and more likely to have had their hours cut and been furloughed than of their male partners. Almost half of mothers’ hours spent doing paid work are split between that and other activities such as childcare, compared with under one-third of fathers’ paid working hours.

The loss of women in the workplace not only sets the path toward gender equity backwards, it also creates a vacuum where the unique skills, knowledge, and expertise of women had previously been. McKinsey reports that senior-level women, “are 1.5 times more likely than senior-level men to think about downshifting their role or leaving the workforce because of COVID-19.” Ironically and just months earlier, McKinsey research revealed that company profits and share performance can be, “close to 50 percent higher when women are well represented at the top” and that senior-level women are, “more likely to mentor and sponsor other women: 38 percent of senior-level women currently mentor or sponsor one or more women of color, compared with only 23 percent of senior-level men.” It is clear that, when we lose women in the workforce at the rate currently being experienced, an entire structure of support collapses alongside it.

With so many obstacles in the way of women’s success, what’s the next move? Part of the WIRe mission has always read, “we believe in the positive impact of women in business.” We firmly believe that, for the global workforce to regain momentum, women need to be present with equal opportunity — and especially in decision-making roles. That’s why we’re calling on MR companies and leaders to boost women’s leadership this month; be it through professional developmentthought leadership opportunitiesfostering diverse communities, or propelling women into decision-making roles. But part of it too, is listening: what do women need from leadership to stay motivated, thrive, and succeed? We asked members of our WIRexec community, organizational event leaders, and employees from WIRe corporate donors for their thoughts.

Here’s what we found:

1. Eliminate the Pay Gap — Now

There has never been a better time to interrogate salary disparity in your company. Jessica Batty, VP Marketing & Corporate Communications at Prodege, echoes this sentiment, sharing: “The Market Research Industry, like many other industries, should examine salary disparity between male and females in similar positions and ensure that historical salaries aren’t holding back someone from their true earning potential. Women, more than men, need to move to another organization in an effort to gain the salary increase they are deserving of or to get that promotion and disparity plays a role here. Taking these steps can allow women to have further tenure at an organization and climb the ladder more easily.“

2. Bolster Future Leaders on Day One

“Our brightest leaders are in front of us: they have endured unimaginable and unprecedented hardships, have persevered against judgement and discrimination and have pushed the boundaries of themselves more than we know,” Dana DiGregorio, Managing Director of MESH Experience explains. “…and I’m not talking about those of us who have been in the industry for years – I’m talking about those who have just started!” The studies seem to agree with her, in 2019 TINYpulse findings revealed that employees who felt that they were progressing in their careers were 20% more likely to still be working at their companies in one year’s time.” The key to retaining — and training — future leaders is to start early. Corporate amenities like internal or third-part mentor programs, professional development opportunities, and networking spaces might be great ways to get female employees in the door, but they are also incredible retention tools as well.

“I think one of the key steps is that all of us as leaders continually make it a point to find times to ‘pass the mic’ to junior folks on our team. Just because we’re the leader doesn’t mean that we need to always be the one presenting!”

Katrina Noelle, President/Co-Founder KNow Research/Scoot Insights

3. Be Considerate (and Proactive) When it Comes to Intersectional Struggles

While women generally are being negatively impacted by COVID and its discontents, Black women and other women of Color are facing an uphill battle that often goes unseen. According to their 2020 Women in the Workplace report, McKinsey found that, “fewer than one in three Black women report their manager has checked in on them in light of recent racial violence or fostered an inclusive culture on their team. Plus, Black women are far less likely than white colleagues to say they have strong allies at work.” While many companies began in-office Inclusion programs before COVID, many too have failed to adapt those campaigns to a remote format. Inclusion matters now more than ever — if you can’t sustain internal programming at this time, outsource programming that can help support diverse employees while continuing to engage all employees in reparative justice efforts. Address the challenges head on.

“We need to work towards roughly equal representation on leadership teams, BOD’s, and across the consumer insights supply chain. We can only really generate compelling insights for clients if we have a diverse, inclusive, and representative set of people contributing to the leadership and day to day value creation of our industry.”

Tiama Hanson-Drury, CPO at Minna Technologies

4. Redefine What Leadership Means for Your Company

“Women are going to have different perspectives, and the same applies across race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, origin, etc.,” Molly Strawn, Senior Marketing Strategist at InnovateMR shares, “…welcoming these viewpoints across leadership positions, having these sometimes uncomfortable conversations so that everyone is heard, and actively pushing for diverse opinions/change is most important for the MR industry to continue to thrive.” In addition to this, in their “Delivery through Diversity” report, McKinsey showed that, “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.” So: if there is a business case for more female leadership — as well as a culture add at stake — why aren’t there more female leaders? It comes down to unconscious bias. Alice Eagly, a psychologist at Northwestern University echoed this in a BBC article out earlier this year, titled, “Why do we still distrust women leaders?” In it, Eagly noted that, “One of the solutions to gender equality is to change not the image of women or men, but to change the image of the leadership roles.” Getting more women into leadership will be equal parts changes to policy, as it will be to changes in mindset. Interrogate the qualities that define leadership in your company for potential bias and expand that definition to be a more inclusive one.

“Transformational change within companies starts from the top, definitely, and but it also starts from the other guiding forces of an org – female executives and leaders, but also female investors and advisors. Bringing on more influential, important, female viewpoints will advocate for equity from all angles!”

Dana Kim, Highlight

5. Adapt to Your Employees like You Adapt to your Clients

COVID has been proof-positive that we are all more adaptable than we ever thought possible — we’ve attended virtual conferences, reinvented face-to-face research methods, all while figuring out the minutiae of running a Zoom call. And to top it all off: some of us have been doing that all while teaching, feeding, and otherwise attending to children and loved ones. One big way that companies can adapt to the needs of all of their employees is to refresh policies around caregiving and parental leave. Kim Lundgren, EVP at Material, offers a relevant anecdote: “I was fortunate enough to work for a company that allowed me to work part-time when my kids were young (before they went to kindergarten). It allowed me to keep learning and growing at the middle management level…and made it that much easier to come back full-time when I was ready. More agencies should set themselves up in this way because it keeps women on the path towards leadership.

Babita Earle, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Zappi, offers another solution for adapting to the unique needs of parents and care-givers, “Make existing role models more visible of women who are parents as well as having careers.”

“In many ways this challenge is not unique to our industry.  The number of female leaders who are mothers continues to grow generation to generation. However, we’re hearing that millions of mothers are leaving the workforce in Covid.  This is an opportunity to inspire the next generation of female leaders that have felt the pressures of the work life balance (or imbalance!) that Covid has accelerated.  It’s OK to PAUSE professionally whether it’s 5 minutes of mindfulness, 30 minutes of exercise, a full “me day” or an extended leave – there are fearless female leaders in the MR industry that have incredible stories to tell as they’ve faced adversity as females and / or mothers themselves to get where they are today. “

Christine Avallone, Sr Manager, Customer Marketplace Insights at Verizon

6. Hire Diversely Across the Board

When it comes to tackling the issue of female leadership, Dr. Matilda Andersson, Group Managing Director at Crowd DNA, holds a straightforward opinion: “There are so many highly skilled women in the research industry today, there’s certainly no lack of talent.”

But adding more women to your workforce is just part of the puzzle — growth-focused companies need to foster diverse leadership across the board. Matilda agrees: “…for there to be more female leadership there also just has to be more diversity overall, not just gender — diversity in thought, different social and ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations as well as diversity of journeys into the industry. That diversity will make it easier to show up and do your thing and break the norms of the industry which, ultimately will make for a more insightful organization.” Women and diverse communities bring different perspectives, values, experiences, and expertise that sets them apart and contributes to a richer collective of thought — and higher profits. A Harvard Business School study found that the success rate of acquisitions and IPOs was, “11.5% lower, on average, for investments by partners with shared school backgrounds than for those by partners from different schools. The effect of shared ethnicity reduced an investment’s comparative success by 26.4% to 32.2%.” Aryn O’Donnell, VP of Corporate Services at Fieldwork says it best: “We are an industry that is powered by creativity, we each have a voice to help all of us succeed.”

“At the heart of market research is representing the buyer, customer, and consumer accurately. We must acknowledge that without women in leadership in market research, we are not reflecting the diversity of our own customers or the customers they are serving. “

Pri Carr, GM, Market Research at SurveyMonkey

7. Invest in a Culture of Support

Mentors change lives and shape the networks of so many successful individuals, but finding a mentor can be hard. Companies that want to bolster female employees into leadership roles can combat the difficulties of finding a mentor by investing in internal or external mentorship programs — engaging leaders of all genders to assist in the cause Jessica Dogali, Founder of Evolving Insights, echoes this idea, saying: “By establishing various active mentorship and leadership programs, other women can be empowered to put their best foot forward, seek guidance from their mentors and break past their comfort zone all the while being reminded that there is no limit as to what they can achieve. Supporting aspirations, knowing when to offer constructive feedback and recognizing accomplishments obtain the ability to influence and inspire additional female leadership.”

8. Celebrate Collective Wins

“Whether male or female, we really don’t celebrate each other’s achievements enough, perhaps because people don’t feel comfortable talking about their own successes,” shares Jane Attale, VP Sales Operations EMEA at Cint. “We all need to be advocates for each other. When it comes to equality for women, it’s not just about breaking that glass ceiling anymore. It’s about building an escalator so that everybody can rise up together. By taking this approach, not only will you smash through that ceiling, but you will also build a path to allow hundreds of people to follow in your footsteps.”

Ready to invest in the future of women leadership? WIRe offers a number of programs like WIRe AcceleratewebinarsWIRe in Color, and more — all with the purpose of bolstering a more diverse and inclusive MRX. Reach out for more info on how you can bring WIRe programming to your workforce.

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