I can easily cite the statistics on women in the workplace. I know that it is a complex issue with different forces at play such as the narrow and leaky pipelines (not enough women enter an industry or quit early), the sticky floor (not enough women get promoted to mid and senior levels) and of course the glass ceiling (not enough representation of women at the very top).
Striving for all of these issues to be rectified is important, not only because it’s the right thing to do but also because studies show that more diverse companies perform better in every single measure of profitability. Today however, I don’t want to focus on that because the most disappointing statistic for me is that 1 in 2 teenage girls in Australia feel that their gender will limit their career.
Discussing the challenges we face as a society is always necessary. It is what has resulted in paid parental leaves for dads, greater flexibility at work and companies consciously examining their unconscious biases. However, focusing too much on external factors can also be damaging, it can result in narrow pipelines and women not raising their hands for senior roles because of an ‘I know I won’t succeed so I won’t try’ mindset. So today, I would rather focus on what I can do as an individual. Here are my top three tips for women in research to walk elegantly across the room on a sticky floor and take their seat at the table.
1. Go beyond the numbers
Good research is credible and trusted.
As researcher, we need to make sure every claim is supported by reliable figures and industry knowledge, yet as researchers we often hide behind numbers that we know can’t be disputed, for example:
21% people said yes to the idea of that product.
60% of people will consider something different.
That’s where most researchers stop. Research is not just about understanding ‘the what’, it’s about driving change and transformation by answering the ‘so what’ and recommending the ‘now what’.
Unless you are able to answer the ‘what’ beyond the obvious, you are not realising the full potential of your data. We should also be able to tell our clients what the statistic we are sharing or the trend we have uncovered means for them. Is it good or bad for their business? What will happen if things continue without change? Is course correction required? Where are things headed? Where should they be heading? This elevates us from researchers to trusted consultants.
Researchers are closest to the data, as such we have a responsibility to formulate an opinion and a strategic recommendation based on our knowledge of these numbers and the industry they are applied to.
2. Step in their shoes
Good research shapes decisions.
We can’t shape decisions if we don’t know what problem the research is trying to solve. In an ideal world, you will be given full disclosure, but more often than not the research objective does not entirely reveal the business problem. A question such as ‘what do my customers really think of me?’ is not a business problem. Behind this question, is a hidden issue that a researcher needs to discover.
The most effective way to understand the real business problem is to step into your stakeholders shoes. What are their KPIs? What keeps them up at night? A good researcher invests time to understand the stakeholders, their business and what success means to them. If the research is for a ‘for profit’ company, it is an absolute must to understand how your research coincides with measures of profitability. Often the correlations are not easily visible due to time lags between changes in customer behaviour and the measures reported on the balance sheet. Good research is all about uncovering these hidden patterns.
By articulating how the patterns your newly discovered patterns are likely to impact the business, you arm your stakeholders with the information required to drive strategic decisions and change.
Good research results in change and transformation.
Stories inspire action and create change. A good researcher is curious, scratches beyond the surface and really listens to their stakeholders. A great researcher is able turn any research into a narrative with the key KPIs as the central characters, calling out the issues, the trade-offs and the dilemmas.
That is my top three pieces of advice for elevating researchers to the status of trusted consultants and advisors. The same applies for both men and women but as a woman I know this – floors don’t stay sticky for long if you are a trusted, reliable and curious advisor.
Gazal Kapoor – Client Director, DBM Consultants.