International Women’s Month: Top women leaders at Toluna discuss the roles of women in the Insights Industry
International Women’s Month in March recognizes and celebrates women’s roles in society. We wanted to do the same and explore the experiences of women in the insights industry in a series of short interviews.
The women we spoke with said that insights is a great place for women to work and excel. As in most industries, full parity has not yet reached. But there are reasons for optimism.
Debbie Senior, VP Global Products & Automation
Debbie Senior says the insights industry is a supportive place to work. “No one has ever told me you are a woman, you can’t do this. I’ve never felt there has been a restriction to achieving anything. You are an individual here,” she says.
The sector also creates opportunities, she says. Applying automation to market research makes things more efficient. “You get the technology to do the boring stuff for you, so insights has become more human oriented. We need people from psychology, statistics, behavioral sciences and technology. You have to work across those disciplines to have an impact,” she says.
Debbie loves the industry and encourages young women (and men) to pursue careers in insights. “There are so many innovations and those create big opportunities,” she adds. “It’s given women confidence to step forward and have a bigger voice.”
Recently Debbie was presenting at a major technology conference and following her talk, several young women came up to tell her how much they enjoyed her presentation and say they had been inspired by her. She has connected with some of the women via LinkedIn and has had follow up calls with them.
Michele Morelli, SVP, Global Marketing Strategy
Michele joined Toluna and its executive board in 2019 after 20 years in marketing where she had always considered insights an important part of the process. “Anyone who knows the importance of brand, knows the importance of insights. Although this is the first time, I’ve worked in the insights industry, I’ve always viewed market research and analytics as crucial and have always had insight professionals in my core team,” she says. But it was Toluna as a company that led her to change course in her career.
“I have always been interested in companies that are disruptive, that are using technology to create a revolution within an industry. I’m fascinated by how you use technology to make something better. I love that Toluna operates like a startup – people are always thinking like entrepreneurs,” she says.
Still, being a woman in a field dominated by men, presents opportunities and challenges, she says.
“Being a woman influences everything I do, especially while I’m at work. It’s important to have multiple voices at the table – people with different perspectives and opinions,” Michele says. She also considers herself an advocate for women and makes diversity a topic with the executive team.
“I encourage men to be sponsors, to be advocates and to ensure they see diverse candidates. The role of men is incredibly important in the advancement of women,” she adds.
Mathilde Lelièvre, Executive Vice President of Global Operations
Part of what makes the insights industry such a great place to work, according to Mathilde Lelièvre, is that being in industry requires you to be open and inquisitive.
“We look at data and we look at understanding behaviors of consumers, it supports an open mind and more reflection on societal phenomena,” says Lelievre. “However even with equal skill and background, women have a tougher time reaching the top,” she says.
Mathilde says this is societal and cultural and as such will require a lot of work to change. The truth is there is bias in culture, she says. It’s generally acknowledged that increasing diversity in management will strengthen the company and everyone is working hard to do so. “At the end of the day, the insights industry should really make it a point to favor diversity. We are providing the data to be able to show that diversity improves performance. We should be better at utilizing it for our benefit,” she adds.
Some of that work has to be done by women themselves: “A woman looks at her job and at what she needs to do to improve. A guy would say, let me get that job and I will see how I bridge the gap between my skills and their expectations. I am trying to help women assert themselves and to give them the confidence that the company is investing in them,” she says.
Mathilde says to look for sorority. Find a mentor and a supportive group. Do not be shy. “Be confident in your own ability and aim high. Own your career. Look at what you bring – all your skills and assets – not the gaps you have. Leverage those assets. Be confident that you deserve a promotion,” she says.
Susan Vidler, Managing Director for the UK, Harris Interactive
Susan Vidler feels grateful to work in an industry and a company where diversity is valued. She says the work itself requires a wide range of personality types and disciplines.
“The industry attracts really interesting people. The people who work in insights, although very different and diverse, all genuinely want to use research to solve business challenges and have a great attitude. The fact that brands and companies you work with are listening to consumer feedback and using that to inform decision making is exciting” she says.
“It’s a really good fit for me. I’m generally fascinated by human behavior. The fact that I’m working with companies about how to use that information sits well with my interest in taking action. I’m naturally curious, so it ticks a lot of boxes of things I’m interested in,” she says.
She’s active in Women In Research (WIRe), the industry association that supports and promotes women’s role in the insights industry.
Susan is a big advocate of the industry as a place where young women and men can create a career, especially if they have a big appetite for knowledge and how to apply it practically. “It requires people who are creative, and technical. For someone who likes to develop and learn, it’s great. It’s a mixture of science and art” she says.
Susan says a key factor in diversification of the industry is that people be free to speak up and be heard. That freedom comes from believing your opinion is valued and should start from day one, she advises.
“If you have an idea, don’t assume when starting in a career, that you don’t have valid opinions. It’s important for people to be brave, to speak up, to promote themselves,” she says.
The women of Toluna took different paths to leadership, but one common theme remains. An industry that is focused on understanding consumers and society is well-placed to embrace diversity.