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The New How of Insights: Women of the GRIT Future List

March 3, 2020

In our last conversation with the women of the GRIT Future List, we asked that the rising stars of the GRIT Insights Practice Report name their biggest predictions for a dynamic industry, transforming just as they push to the forefront of its ranks.

This time around—in honor of this edition’s “Insights Practice” focus—we asked how questions: how to build a career in market research, how to adapt to rapid technological change, how to be a new kind of leader with the future of the workplace at the center of how they manage and inspire teams.

As GreenBook once again received hundreds of nominations for the list—which honors rising insights stars—it is even more reflective of the organization’s commitment to inclusion that the awardees represent the diverse communities that power the research sphere. At Women in Research (WIRe) we’re excited to once again honor these burgeoning female leaders in our industry and to uplift their expertise and wisdom.

How to Reinvent an Industry

Danielle Todd

When I started in research,” noted Relish Research’s Danielle Todd, “I met plenty of people who ‘fell’ into it and constantly questioned its purpose and utility. As a consequence, over the years, I’ve grown increasingly passionate about the professionalization of our industry.” A number of honorees touched upon a foundational shift in how the industry views itself and, in turn, conducts itself. Danielle went on to add that, “[my own work is] grounded in academia, utilizing refined multi-methodological approaches that build on new thinking, and delivered with well-informed, considered and confident expertise. This will form the backbone of research consultancy, as our industry continues to upskill to occupy a competitive and professional space.”

Hannah Marcus mirrors this sentiment but with an emphasis on an evolving necessity for creative research practice: “[my company, Discover.ai] is at the forefront of a new piece of technology which is designed to make research faster; at a time when a lot of people are throwing around the world ‘agile’, we can do projects in 8 days. This is not just important because of the speed; the projects we do sit in the discovery/exploratory phase, they’re about going broad and thinking creatively […] speed and affordability is actually increasing the likelihood that projects can include that more conceptual, abstract and creative element which so often gets missed out.”

FlexMR’s Amy Greenwood similarly fingered an organizational turn toward culture-focused, creative research practice: “My team and I are always pushing at the boundaries of what we believe can be improved […] Our work is focused on changing the cultures of organizations to base more decisions on data and to actively seek to engage market research before embarking on new journeys. It’s my hope that what we are doing will contribute to a future where insight teams, and agencies, are a critical and indispensable function for all departments – not just marketing and product development, where much of the industry’s current demand is generated.”

How to Redefine Leadership

Athena Lam cites a radical approach to leadership that hits at the heart of the new inclusive workplace: helping people to create their best work. “Forget about impressing people and focus on having your own standards for yourself,” she urges. “Develop these standards for everything — from work delivery to handling difficult situations with maturity and grace. Having them will probably cause frustration for others and especially yourself. But if you keep them and work towards improving how you and those around you can meet them, people will follow you because you help them become a better version of themselves.”

Research Results, Inc. Chief Client Officer, Ellen Pieper, shares a similar approach to human-focused leadership: “My first boss told me “People work with people, not with companies”; this applies to customers, as well as employees. If you do what’s right for people, you’ll ultimately do what’s right for the company. Not only does this build a better workplace, but it also leads to better relationships with employees.”

How to Take the First Leap: And Stand Your Ground

We asked our honorees to share advice they’d give to researchers just starting a career in the industry and Sklar Wilton & Associates Research Management Director (and WIRe Toronto Event Lead!) Barb Paszyn cited advice given from her own leadership team. “Always be curious, and don’t be scared to say what’s on your mind,” she shared. “No one should look down upon you for expressing your thoughts, and if they do then maybe it’s not the right organization for you. I really love what Luke Sklar (the founder of Sklar Wilton & Associates) would say: ‘You are the company that you keep.’ I’ve used this throughout my career to remind myself that I can make a difference and if someone doesn’t respect my opinions then maybe it’s not the right fit for me – and that’s okay, in the end, you need to live with yourself and what you do.”

Muriel Silva from Lactilus Canada echoed the necessity of being one’s own advocate: “As we start our careers, we are on a ‘learning’ mode and sometimes are afraid to speak up if your opinion is different than that of a more experienced colleague. Always speak your mind in a respectful and constructive way; you might not always be right but your thought process will always be valuable. Sometimes, we might think that our job is about writing reports, spreadsheets or presentations while in reality, our critical thinking is what is really bringing an edge. Don’t ever forget the value of your point of view.”

Thematic CEO Alyona Medelyan gave future Women in Research a task-list for long-term career success: “1. Surround yourself with positive role models. Who are people whose achievements inspire you? It could be friends, acquaintances, people you meet offline or online. Understand both what’s possible and what aligns with your strengths. Reach out to role models for advice 2. Build your audience. Put yourself out there by sharing your work. I do it by updating my homepage, sharing interesting things on Twitter and LinkedIn, writing articles, and publishing my code on GitHub. Seeing your journey will inspire others. People will look up to you and reach out to you. 3. If you don’t grow personally in your current place of employment, if there are barriers, don’t fight. Move onto the next thing, until you find a place where you can learn the most and can flourish. Pick your battles wisely.”

How to Bridge the Leadership Gap for Better Insights

For Hannah Marcus, the way to a better workplace for all begins with asking the right question. “Are there women in senior positions who can be role models? Is there a truly flexible working structure that can support women who may be the primary or sole caregivers to young children? Does everyone else make proper use of technology so that those who are working flexibly and remotely still feel included and supported? Is it an environment that actively thinks about the pay gap and works to counter it […] Is there an office environment where you can openly talk about mental health?” Danielle Todd adds that there’s a need for women to celebrate their success in this model as well: “Acknowledge, talk about and own your contributions, ideas and achievements. And help others do the same as well.”

Barb Paszyn urges women to work with management and clearly define their career goals from day one: “Ask your manager to help you achieve the role you want and by setting up a plan that reaches these goals. They should be your cheerleaders after all. So, don’t be scared to be vocal about your career intentions. You’ll be surprised how many people in your company and team will be supportive of this, and try to help you achieve that next step.”

The honorees of the GRIT Future List are proof-perfect of an evolving attitude towards research and research leadership that’s sure to shake the foundations of the industry in new and exciting ways.

To view the complete GRIT Future list, download the 2019 GRIT Insights Practice Repor

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