Why intersectionality is important in market research

Published 24 Nov 2020 12 minute read

Inclusion
Intersectonality

As market researchers, we know the market research we conduct should be representative of the population we aim to understand./p>

However, achieving this can be somewhat harder and less often achieved than we may care to admit.

Why? Because bias exists, unconscious or not. So, as an industry, we must always strive to do more to ensure the inclusivity of our research and that means understanding intersectional research – or, more specifically, the role intersectionality plays in market research.

More often than not, that population we must represent in our research is ‘the general public’ or ‘consumers’ ; this means that the full diversity of people who make up the population should be reflected in our research.

It’s about more than just ensuring that you sample according to a quota based on age, gender, ethnicity, religion or other demographic criteria. It’s about understanding how these variables reflect deeper experiences and how they interact to shape individual experiences. It means understanding ‘intersectionality’.

The OED defines intersectionality as “the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage”.

So, for example, it doesn’t always make sense to just talk about how women, in a generic way, experience a particular issue compared to men because it is likely that young Black women will experience the issue differently to young White women; that middle-class men will have very different experiences to working-class men; that LGBT+ women will differ in yet other ways from straight women.

Diverse group taking part in Intersectional research

The permutations are many – and some are more relevant than others in relation to specific issues.

For instance, the interactions of gender and race can lead to very different workplace experiences and have radically different impacts on career progression.

Qualitative research commissioned by the Government into the stories behind the achievements of a group of powerful ethnic minority women illustrates this point effectively.

When discussing education and careers, many of the Black women interviewed for this project said they had felt very strongly supported at home and mainly encountered barriers when they came into contact with schools and employers.

In contrast, most of the Asian women interviewed reported barriers against education and career ambitions at home, in their community and in wider society but felt empowered and supported in school.

This shows that intersectionality affects communities differently, and individual experiences can always lie outside the trend. Had this research simply lumped all of the women into the category of BAME, key insights would have been missed.

Intersectionality and the research community

As part of its ongoing work on diversity in market research, the MRS has just released a research report, authored by Dr Marie-Claude Gervais FRSA, Co-Founder of Versiti, into diversity, inclusion and equality in the market research sector.

Among other themes, the report specifically explores the issue of intersectionality and intersectional research and demonstrates just how different experiences can be for some members of the research community based on their demographic profile.

As a simple heuristic device, the analysis compares the experiences and perceptions of three ‘types’ of researchers:

Type 1: a group comprised of researchers who are male, White, straight and not disabled;

Type 2: a group of researchers who are female, White, straight and not disabled; and

Type 3: a group of researchers who belong to any visible minority community, based on ethnicity, faith and/or physical disability.

Broadly speaking, the results showed that Type 1 researchers have consistently better experiences at work and are less aware of discrimination in their companies than Type 2 and Type 3 researchers. Some key statistics from the report include the following:

  • 83% of Type 1 researchers agree with the statement “I feel like I belong at my company” compared to only 66% of Type 2 researchers.
  • 51% of Type 1 researchers agree that “Women and minority groups are well represented at all levels of the organisation” compared to only 31% of Type 2 researchers.
  • 36% of Type 3 researchers say that they have experienced colleagues taking credit for shared work, compared to only 21% of Type 1 researchers.

Awareness of intersectionality in your research

As researchers, we need to learn to be sensitive to issues of intersectionality, and endeavour to conduct intersectional research wherever possible.

At Further, as online qualitative researchers, we have identified a number of ways we can use our platform to ensure that awareness of intersectionality is built into our projects and those of our clients.

There are three key areas where we can be aware of issues of intersectionality: sample, research activities and analysis:

Sample

Firstly, since qualitative research aims to generate insights – and often to support innovation – it makes sense to ensure that samples include more participants from diverse backgrounds to ensure that different voices are heard. You are also free from the constraints of place, so you can reach people from any location.

And because you don’t require people to attend in person, you open up the research to people who may be nervous to attend for cultural reasons or unable to do so for reasons of physical impairment.

Research activities

Online qualitative research platforms enable you to use a wide range of research tasks, tools and activities. You can tailor activities for particular groups, and you can be selective about which participants see which activities, and when.

You can make questions that some groups would find sensitive or you can separate groups so as not to bias responses.

So, for example, if you were interested in issues of accessibility, you could ask disabled and non-disabled people separately about the constraints that they experience or imagine others experience – and then compare the responses as a group – all with fully informed consent, of course.

Interview with a disabled individual as part of intersectional research

Analysis

Online qualitative research platforms enable you to tag and group individuals according to any number of criteria of interest. This means you can really treat your participants as individuals (and even create case studies based on individual profiles).

You can compare and contrast their responses according to their membership of any number of groups within your research.

So, you can bring up all the data from young black women, and then all the data from young black men, and compare them; or all the data from working-class gay men and from working-class lesbians, and so on.

It makes it much easier to see patterns and test hypotheses about what might be going on in the data by individual and by combined demographic variables.

Doing our part for intersectional research

The MRS is taking a lead on diversity, as evidenced by the newly formed Diversity, Inclusion and Equality Council, the CEO pledge, and the ongoing investment in diversity research mentioned above.

As individual researchers we can all do our bit; understanding intersectionality and taking note of how it can affect our research projects is just one contribution we can all make.

If you would like to know more about intersectionality and online qualitative research, then our subject matter experts would be only too happy to help – just complete the form below and we'll be in touch.

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