Women in Research: Challenges, Successes, and the Path Forward

May 3, 2024

On this episode of the Insightful Inspiration podcast, host Isabelle Landreville sat down with Kristin Luck, founder of Women in Research (WIRe), to discuss the state of women in the market research industry. Their wide-ranging conversation touched on:

  • challenges women face
  • their successes
  • the work that still needs to be done

Let's dive into their conversation.

The early days of Women in Research

Kristin shared the story of how WIRe came to be back in 2007. While working on the quantitative and tech side of the research industry, she noticed that as her career progressed, she found herself working almost exclusively with men - despite starting out surrounded by women.

The idea for WIRe began when a senior executive at a company reached out to Kristin. The executive lamented the lack of women in her professional network. Kristin offered to introduce her to other female researchers, and what started as a casual get-together of about 50 women in Los Angeles quickly grew into regular events in cities like New York, London, and San Francisco.

As WIRe gained momentum, Kristin realized there was an opportunity to create a more structured organization with a clear mission. She wanted to turn WIRe into a force for change in the industry, helping to develop the next generation of female leaders.

Women in research topics of discussion then and now

In the early days of WIRe, Kristin says the topics of discussion ranged from day-to-day business management to the skill sets needed to reach the C-suite. Many women were learning on the job, without formal business training, and they valued the opportunity to learn from each other's successes and failures.

Work-life balance was another common theme, with women discussing issues like pregnancy, maternity leave, and the challenges of balancing work with family responsibilities. These conversations continue today, but Kristin notes that priorities often shift as careers progress. What's important changes. Promotions and earning more money can matter more early on. That can give way to a greater focus on personal fulfillment and well-being as a career progresses.

Isabelle points out that, in her experience, women in research may define success more holistically, considering factors beyond career advancement. Kristin agrees, saying that as she's gotten older, she's become more intentional about focusing on what's important not just in her business but also in her personal life.

Progress and persistent challenges

While the research industry has made strides in gender diversity, Kristin says there's still a long way to go. She said that only 10-15 percent of CEOs at the largest research companies are held by women.

One area where progress has been made is in conference programming. Kristin is proud of WIRe's 50/50 initiative, which has helped push for equal representation of men and women on stage at industry events. It's rare now to see an all-male panel, and there's greater diversity in terms of both gender and ethnicity among speakers.

However, challenges persist when it comes to maternity and paternity leave policies. In the United States, there's often pressure for women to take as little time off as possible after giving birth. Kristin says some of the women she's spoken to have even responded to emails from their hospital beds.

On a more positive note, she's observed that younger women are being more selective about who they choose to have children with and are having upfront conversations about expectations around childcare and work-life balance. There's also less stigma around the decision to remain child-free, which Kristin sees as a sign of progress.

The power of mentorship

One of WIRe's most successful initiatives has been its mentoring program, which matches women at various stages of their careers with more experienced mentors. Isabelle, who serves as a mentor herself, says the program is well-structured and meaningful for both mentors and mentees.

Kristin explains that the program involves significant upfront work to ensure good matches. Mentees are asked to fill out a check-in sheet, outlining their personal and business highs and lows before each session. This helps set the stage for productive conversations and allows mentors to understand where they can be most helpful.

Kristin notes that mentors often get just as much out of the program as mentees do. They may learn new skills or gain fresh perspectives from their mentees, making it a mutually beneficial relationship.

The importance of intention and letting go

Throughout the conversation, the theme of acting with intention comes up repeatedly. Isabelle suggests that women in research are getting better at being self-aware and taking ownership of their personal and professional goals.

Kristin agrees, sharing that attendees engage in intention-setting exercises at WIRe's annual executive summits to clarify what they want to get out of their businesses and lives. She's observed how these intentions evolve over time as priorities shift.

Another key lesson Kristin has learned is the importance of letting go of perfectionism and control. As WIRe has grown, she's had to step back and trust others to carry out the organization's mission. While it can be challenging for someone with a type-A personality, Kristin says it's essential for growth.

She also applies this principle to her own businesses, recognizing that for them to scale, she can't hold on too tightly. It's about hiring the right people, communicating the vision, and giving them the space to lead and succeed.

Looking to the future

Kristin's biggest wish for women in the research industry five or ten years from now? Kristin hopes we reach a point where organizations like WIRe are no longer necessary. In an ideal world, gender parity would be the norm, and we wouldn't need to have these conversations.

However, she acknowledges that progress is happening more slowly than many would like. WIRe's industry surveys, conducted every five years, show that at the current rate, reaching gender parity in the C-suite is still a distant goal.

Important changes are still needed, said Kristin.  

She also sees the shift towards hybrid and remote work as a positive development for women. It allows greater flexibility to balance work and family responsibilities. It's a way to level the playing field.

Isabelle suggests that having more women in leadership and decision-making roles can have a ripple effect, influencing everything from definitions of success to the availability of resources like childcare. She points to the example of Quebec, Canada. A high percentage of women in government has led to policies and structures that better support work-life balance.

Kristin agrees that diversity is crucial at the top. It's about the tangible benefits that come from having a range of perspectives at the table. Companies with diverse boards have been shown to outperform those without, and policies designed to benefit women often end up benefiting men as well.

Keeping the momentum going

As the conversation winds down, Kristin and Isabelle reflect on the progress and work still ahead. They encourage listeners to get involved with WIRe. And to keep pushing for change in their own organizations and communities.

Kristin emphasizes change may feel slow at times. No need to get discouraged. Every small step forward matters, and the cumulative effect of individual actions can be profound.

She also stresses the importance of women supporting each other. When they celebrate each other's success, women in research can create a rising tide that benefits everyone.

As the episode concludes, it's clear that the conversation about gender equity in the research industry is far from over.

The road ahead may be long, but as Kristin and Isabelle demonstrate, it's a journey worth taking—not just for the sake of women in research but also for the industry's health and success. With intention, persistence, and a commitment to lifting as we climb, a more equitable future is within reach.

Women in Research: Challenges, Successes, and the Path Forward

More Cultural Insights

Connecting with Consumers by Understanding the Narrative Economy
Being Client-First and Addressing Client Needs in Market Research in a Sustainable Way
Insightful Inspiration - Exploring Quebec Culture and Identity
Cultural Fluency: How Biculturalism Helps with Consumer Understanding
The Science of Trust: Insights from Social Neuroscientist Paul Zak
Building Trust and Authenticity in the Insights Industry