The Research Is In: The Case for Being Yourself at Work
STEM Kristen Harmeling of YouGov speaks of the importance of finding a mentor and pursuing your passions.
From a research perspective, can you explain what you do exactly for YouGov?
I am responsible for developing relationships with clients in order to help them solve their business issues through research. This includes recommending the best types of methodology, sample types, sample sources, types of analysis, reporting deliverables and more. From a content, or topic perspective, my work focuses on education — adult, higher ed, and K-12 — and youth and family issues, while dabbling in the CPG category when I can.
What are the biggest concerns regarding the gender gap for women in research? Is it a fear of feeling too masculine, deficient self-confidence, a lack of opportunity or the pay gap?
The gender gap really becomes apparent as you move up the food chain, so to speak, and this is true both on the client side as well as the supplier side. This said, there are many other industries where gender inequity is a far bigger problem. Some of the gender gap in market research may be due to women branching out on their own, which certainly isn’t a bad thing.
What do you see is improving for women in market research? What other innovations in your industry are exciting to you?
Work-place flexibility has increased dramatically in the past decade or so. This benefits everyone: men, women, families and employers. This is an industry where creativity and collaboration make for better project outcomes and more satisfied clients. Specific technology innovations are also allowing market researchers to focus more on what the data means, rather than spend time organizing and sifting through data. We are now better able to visualize data to tell stories in more compelling ways for our clients. Text analyzers, auto-chart creation and the like are examples that come to mind.
Did you have a mentor when you began to conduct research or do you still have a mentor?
I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the mentors I have had in my career. None of my mentors have come through a formal mentorship program, but I wish some type of mentorship program had been available to me. I believe strongly that the best mentor-mentee relationships have to be organic, but if I had been taught the value of a having a mentor, how to make the most of having a mentor and generally how to think about mentorship, I would have reaped the rewards of having a mentor earlier on. I think a mistake we make is in thinking that our mentors have to be women and that we should have only one key mentor in our careers. I can name at least five people who I consider mentors who have been bosses, senior consultants, senior project leads and even clients. Some of them would likely be surprised that I consider them mentors. Most of them are women, and every single one of them have qualities to which I admire and aspire. Most of all, the things I have learned from each one stay with me to this day.
What insight or advice do you have to a young woman considering a career in market research?
I strongly believe whatever career you choose, you should find a profession that encourages you to bring your whole self wherever you go. Market research does that: We study people as consumers, parents, professionals, citizens and more. You have immediate expertise when you are in market research because you already are many of these things. Additionally, find an organization that allows you to grow your career in the direction you want. My passion has always been youth and family research, and in the past decade, education. YouGov allowed me to pursue clients and work that aligned with what I care most about. My clients have heard me say this many times: I consider myself very fortunate to never have to “take off a hat.” I’m a mom, a volunteer on my local school board and a market research professional. Each one of these roles supports the others, and even though my kids accuse me of ”focus-grouping” them, I couldn’t ask for a better career.