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On March 3, leaders from some of the research industry’s largest and most influential agencies came together to discuss their progress with the MRS Inclusion Pledge. Grant Feller reports on their discussion.

The last 12 months have seen a huge shift in how the search sector has become diverse, fair and inclusive. But the overarching message from this year’s CEO roundtable on MRS Inclusion Commitment is that there is still much to do.

As Branka Orosnjak, managing partner at Hall & Partners, has made clear, the sector may be more diverse and goals have improved, but it’s still not inclusive enough. “We need to make sure our offices are accessible to everyone. If we are to retain staff and attract the best – giving them the tools to succeed so they have long careers in this industry – then an inclusive environment is essential.

The key, according to some of the industry’s most influential leaders, is to inspire teams to take ownership of the issues. And at least three major solutions have been described.

First, the feeling that DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) issues are “hard-wired” into the fabric of the business, a word used by Ipsos UK chief executive Kelly Beaver. Not just in terms of attitudes and practices, but also in measurement. “DEI’s goals have been integrated into the way the top team thinks and operates,” she says. “It’s one of the ways we’ve been able to proactively engage people on this issue. And then, by having dedicated goals for learning, we can instantly see and share the progress we’re making. »

The industry still doesn’t look like the people it’s trying to understand, added Amy Cashman, executive general manager of Kantar’s insights division. The need to widen access – including to those who do not enter the labor market through a traditional university route – is essential.

Kantar uses mentorship in this way and Ipsos has its own sponsorship program to ensure different voices are heard at senior levels. As Beaver pointed out, board members sponsor young people from more diverse backgrounds to advance their careers.

Color of Research co-founder and i-View Studios managing director Bob Qureshi stressed that recruiting was key. “We have to think about how we employ people in the first place. Through blind and anonymous CVs, for example, but also by looking beyond conventional education. This also extends to how we recruit for focus groups, to ensure they are more representative and not all alike.

Initiatives must go hand in hand with goals, added Orosnjak. “We need to repeat and reinforce so everyone knows we are committed. In this way, we go beyond initiatives and integrate these principles into our corporate cultures. »

Diversity and inclusiveness was once a box-ticking exercise, so integrating these issues into our professional lives means interest won’t be short-lived. “Measurements and metrics are key,” Qureshi added. “DEI issues need to be part of our assessment systems so that we can monitor our progress and judge where we need to go next.”

The second approach is to ensure that staff view challenges within the sector as their own challenges, not simply the responsibility of those at the top. As Vanella Jackson, President of Hall & Partners, made it clear, “Everyone should consider it their responsibility to get things done. Everyone must commit. We are stronger and more influential when we do things together.

Cashman added: “There’s an incredible wave of our people wanting to get involved so it’s extremely important that we encourage them. Leadership needs to bring people together in this way and we need to train them with this lens of diversity and inclusion, to challenge inherent biases so that the people we hire come from a broad spectrum.

Kantar’s Allies program has been hugely successful in this regard, with senior managers ensuring that people from more diverse backgrounds receive the support they need.

The impact of Covid-19 and the slow pace of reconstruction is also an important element. GfK’s Global President of Sales and Marketing, Warren Saunders, added: “Some of our staff haven’t met yet, so mentoring and enabling individuals to have a voice is even more important now. We have to create this momentum.

Third, the increasing reliance on outside experts to drive change within the industry. The influence of outside influencers has also grown over the past year, with key individuals and organizations helping companies broaden their outlook and further promote “unconscious awareness,” according to Saunders.

“At Kantar,” Cashman said, “we challenged ourselves to understand issues in new ways by bringing in external speakers with real authority and knowledge. This helped drive DEI engagement in the whole organization, because we are encouraged to think differently. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s also good for business.

All of these measures need to be supported by a stronger industry-wide voice so that we can communicate learnings and – as Qureshi pointed out – help customers with their measures so that diversity and inclusion is transformed within their own organization.

We need to tell people what we are doing, how we are changing – not just our customers but the outside world. “The more we talk about these issues,” Orosnjak said, “the better for everyone.”

A full recording of the MRS Inclusion Pledge CEO Roundtable is available for free in the MRS Video Library here.