In my view, the reason bias is still a problem in the marketing services sector is not just because it is unconscious. It’s because it is institutionalised.
I have 30 years’ experience under my belt and am the Deputy Chairman of one of the UK’s leading independent insight agencies, but I still find myself contending with men who think it perfectly fine to interrupt and talk over me every time I open my mouth.
Earlier this year, one of my friends who is a gay British Asian man working in strategic communications was so frustrated by the lack of diversity he saw around him that he set up his own agency, The Unmistakables, to help clients create better workplaces and campaigns for minorities. He is being the change he wants to see happen in the world and I salute him for it. I think there’s a lesson here for us.
One of the things I love most about research is that it can reveal and challenge bias, by giving voice to the views of those who are often overlooked by brand marketers and decision makers, too many of whom – let’s be honest – are still too white, too male and too straight.
But for it to do that, we must design it into the process. Because it seems to me that for all our meticulously specified Nat Rep samples, our conscientious boosts amongst minority groups and so on, there is *still* a tendency in our industry to design research which reflects our own ‘lived experience’ (or that of our client) more than the realities of those whose views and opinions we seek to understand.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the language we use. Language and culture are intertwined so it stands to reason that if we want to understand a group of people, we need to use language that is meaningful and relevant to them. We should literally speak their language.
And we need deliberately to give greater visibility to minority or under-represented voices (which can often include women, by the way, who last time I looked represent over 50% of the population). We need to ask the awkward questions of our clients, draw attention to it in our proposals and make it a focus in our analysis and reporting including the way we use imagery in deliverables.
We’re all on a journey here. If we want to rid ourselves of unconscious bias I think we need to achieve a state of conscious competence.
In my experience, big brands are already doing great work to address the issue internally. As a sector, I’d hope that we have a big role to play in helping our clients do the same externally.
This article first appeared in the MRS Delphi Group Deconstructing Bias report.