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The Rise of Women in Research

by Kim-Lee de Vries

I was recently asked the question, “Why are there so many women in the market research industry?” I didn’t really have to quantify how accurate an observation this was; all I needed to do was look around me to know that the assessment was spot on.

In the agency where I work, seven of the eight employees comprise of the fairer sex. This is not only evident within my company but tends to hold true when looking at our competitors too. In the market research battle of the sexes, at least in terms of numbers, women are coming out on top. But, I wouldn’t be much of a researcher if I didn’t ask myself that all-important question – Why is that?

Before jumping straight into the why, I think it’s prudent to assess what being a researcher is. If I were to summarise the fundamental character trait a market researcher must have (and this is not negotiable) I would say that it is to be passionately curious.

Didn’t curiosity kill the cat?

Curiosity has oftentimes been linked to caution and I have heard it asserted in innumerable conversations, articles, and even memes that men are the more curious sex as they are more likely to throw caution to the wind and are naturally more inclined to take more risks. I would agree with this hypothesis, but then counter that curiosity can be categorised into a curiosity of things and curiosity of people. The Boston University School of Mechanical Engineering reports that around 84% of its graduates are men. Conversely, as reported by the British Psychology Society, around 80% of Psychology undergraduate students are women. Of course, I am by no means asserting that men are not curious, but if we stick to looking at the field of psychology; then females are more curious about people, while males are more curious about things.

Words, words, words

I think that this phenomenon is also indicative of societal conditioning and expectations of how gender is performed. Women are and have been socialised into being more people-pleasing and empathetic, whereas men are conditioned to be more autonomous. So much so, in fact, that we receive a neurological reward from our brains when we do things that conform to these expectations. When a certain group does not feel empowered or heard they will compensate on a subconscious level. An example of this is that, in one study it was shown that a woman will typically use around 20 000 words per day, whereas a man would use around 7 000 words per day. While at the surface level, these could easily be misconstrued for gender differences, I think that the underlying factors are more intricately linked to social power or the lack thereof. Marginalised groups often need to adopt linguistic styles which compensate for a lack of power and have to do more linguistic words due to this lack of social power.

I also feel that our linguistic styles and use of words in particular offer an insight into why women are more pervasive within the market research industry. At its core, market research really is a game of words. Applying them to something intangible and making it real – it’s really the art of storytelling. It then becomes immediately apparent why this industry is appealing to women.

A safe space

With the prevalence of women seeking safer working spaces, ones where they can be valued as professionals and not as objects of the male gaze, I think that an industry dominated by women becomes highly attractive. In an industry like market research where you are surrounded by other women, the work environment tends to be more freeing and less riddled by scandals such as the latest Activision Blizzard example.

OK, but what about the dudes?

When doing research for this article, I found results published by The British Psychological Society from a focus group they ran with their male students. The male students perceived Psychology as a field primarily related to the health and education professions; careers which they thought of as being ‘women’s work’ and which did not strongly appeal to them.

To summarise, men still think of research as being a ‘soft’ industry. This doesn’t hold true for all areas of marketing though. Advertising appears to be dominated by men, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Sources:

https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-33/september-2020/tackling-gender-imbalance-psychology

https://kotaku.com/the-mess-around-whether-to-boycott-activision-blizzard-1847432059

https://www.bu.edu/eng/about/dean-lutchen/engineerings-gender-diversity-problem/