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What is it really like to be a minority researcher?

As part of a programme of initiatives to increase diversity, inclusion and equality (DI&E) in the market research sector, the MRS has published a report based on a survey of more than 400 people who work in the industry.

The findings demonstrate that although most researchers believe that they are recognised for the quality of their work, and feel that their unique characteristics and background are valued, discrimination and inappropriate behaviour at work are still commonplace. If you’ve not personally experienced discrimination, you may not be aware that it exists. Even if you are, it can be hard to imagine how it might feel, or to recognise when it is happening to others or when you yourself are acting according to a bias, whether conscious or unconscious.

Below is a fictional diary of a researcher who is a member of a number of minoritised groups - to help us understand the issues from her perspective.

All of the scenarios in this ‘day in the life’ have been inspired by the responses to the MRS survey.

7:30am: Appointment with my GP. I’ve a physical condition and some ongoing health issues that need regular check-ups but I’ve had to wait weeks to get an early morning appointment so I don’t miss any work, as my company isn’t supportive about taking time off for appointments.

8:00: Time to drop off my son at nursery. It’s a long day for him, but as I only work three days, I start early. I’m trying to get a balance between work and childcare but I often feel like I am missing out both in the office and at home. A male colleague who started at the same time as me has now built up much more experience which has enabled him to progress further than me. I know I didn’t get a promotion because it depended on working long hours – and I couldn’t commit to that. Before I had my son, one of my colleagues told me that there is a general belief within the organisation that women don’t work as hard once they are mothers. My priority is my family, but it’s like I only have half a career. I feel like I go unnoticed at work.

Before I had my son, one of my colleagues told me that there is a general belief within the organisation that women don’t work as hard once they are mothers.

9:00: Call with some clients. There are a couple of people on the call with non-British backgrounds and accents, so you have to make an effort to listen carefully. Afterwards one of my colleagues makes a negative comment, but only about the person from Africa, not about the Spanish person who also has a pronounced accent.

10:00: Meeting with clients. I’m the only woman in the room; the others are white, older men. I’m from a minority ethnic background and I sometimes find that when I am in a meeting with white men, they talk over me and don’t listen to my ideas. One of my colleagues introduces everyone in the meeting but he mispronounces my name, which makes me feel awkward. Then one of the clients tells a joke that makes me uncomfortable, as it borders on racist. Do I bring it up? Or just let it go?

Last time I called out a racist comment, I was told that I was mistaken. The company has a diversity policy so some people believe that this means that there is no racism. We are discussing global work and when we get to the findings from India my manager asks me to present as I am “the expert.” Trouble is, my background is nothing to do with India and I’m no more of an expert than he is. He made an assumption because of the colour of my skin and my name.

11:00: The meeting is running over. My manager knows I have an online therapy appointment to help with stress and anxiety but I still feel uncomfortable having to leave the meeting, as taking time off for therapy is looked down on. Ever since I disclosed my mental health issues, I have been treated differently by colleagues. Research can be a stressful career; the stakes are high for clients, there are always deadlines to meet, and we have financial targets to achieve. When you suffer from anxiety this can sometimes be too much.

Ever since I disclosed my mental health issues, I have been treated differently by colleagues.

12:00: Another client meeting, this time with a new client. I attend with my younger colleague who happens to be white and male, and who reports to me. The client assumes he is my boss. Perhaps it is because I look young for my age. Colleagues often underestimate me and assume I am more junior which is frustrating. I am regularly given work that is below my level of experience and ability and I worry that it is preventing me from advancing my career. People in this company sometimes refer to younger employees – especially the new graduates - as ‘children’ or ‘minions’. I talked to an older colleague about it, and she told me that she experiences ageism too, saying “As you get older, you become invisible in this company.”

13:00: Go to lunch with colleagues. They are all laughing about some TV shows that they grew up with but I don’t know them as I wasn’t born in this country. I feel a bit left out. Then the conversation turns to the conference that is coming up next week. I should be going but I don’t have anyone to look after my child if I go away overnight. I had to make an excuse because everyone is expected to go.

14:00: Planning the annual performance reviews for my team. I’ve discussed what to say with my manager, but unfortunately we don’t always agree. This time we are clashing on how to review a member of my team who is on the autistic spectrum. Typically, performance reviews pick up on weaknesses and the only way to progress is by improving those weaknesses. However this doesn’t make sense for this individual who has fantastic creative research and analysis skills, but struggles with some aspects of team management. One size definitely does not fit all.