Researching intersectionality: understanding and learning inclusive behaviours

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Researching intersectionality: understanding and learning inclusive behaviours
Posted on March 7, 2022 by Braden MacDonald

Reading Time: 4 minutes


Market Research is all about understanding. Knowing what makes consumers tick and what demographics they neatly fit into is key. But inclusivity is a challenge. For some people it’s not easy to fit in a box – and those boxes aren’t as applicable as they may be for others. This is a core tension for MRX – we both need to categorize in order to measure, and we need to be inclusive if we are to be representative.

To explore this challenge The Market Research Society hosted an MRSPride Webinar in collaboration with Colours of Research on 27th January, to look at what market researchers must do to be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ people in research when considering their intersectionality, both amongst participants of research and the research teams themselves.
Here’s our take on this excellent event.

The webinar opened with MRSPride’s Sabrina Trinquetel and Colour of Research’s Tatenda Musesengwa showing their research on LGBTQ+ intersectional market researchers in the workplace. Intersectionality is when a person falls into two social groups, which can lead to discrimination. For their research, Sabrina and Tatenda focused on people of colour and LGBTQ+ people. The aim was to shine a light on the layers of discrimination that people can experience in their intersectionality, some of which many people are not aware of.

This research showed that some participants needed to manage multiple identities to be accepted at work, to fit into society’s boxes, balancing who they really are, and how they feel they should appear. For some, they are still experiencing discrimination based both on their race and their sexual or gender identity. However, they are unwilling to report such behaviour as not to appear as a disruptor in their workplace.

After their findings, Sabrina and Tatenda are calling for ‘overt inclusivity’ in the workplace, this is to dislodge negative learnt behaviours and energise positive change. To do this they gave three short how-to steps:

1. Think about being inclusive in every conversation, meeting or decision made at work.
2. Challenge yourself to talk about inclusivity at work.
3. Be aware, listen more, be aware of others and create time & space for those that need it.

Being explicitly inclusive allows those who need it to increase productivity, increase their focus at work, raise confidence levels, motivate employees to seek higher roles, and build better connections with colleagues.

Following on from MRSPride x CORe’s research into intersectionality, Dr Clifford Lewis of Charles Sturt University, Australia was up next sharing some of his own research. His research focused on LGBTQ+ communities when responding to surveys designed by market researchers. Dr Lewis reminded us that LGBTQ+ have a unique lived experience (which is often exasperated by intersectionality) and LGBTQ+ people are often involved in market research even if they are not being targeted by the criteria of research population, as according to Doctor Lewis, 1 in 10 people identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community.

So, what does this mean for research? Researchers must remember that there is a difference between sex, sexual orientation, sexual identity and gender identity. When creating surveys, these mustn’t be grouped together. Having ‘trans’ on a gender identity question is invalid and will receive low levels of engagement as the trans people completing the survey don’t acknowledge that as their identity and would instead identify as their gender. It’s important to be educated on the topic to not miss the mark and risk discriminating against someone.

Dr Lewis also advised against the practice of ‘othering’ people. Language is a powerful tool and having, “male, female & other” as options on a survey is exclusionary. Instead, he advises that positive language such as “I identify as an alternative gender identity” should be used on surveys. It’s also important that there are some people on the research team who are members of the communities that are being surveyed, this allows for a further enriched understanding on how to ask certain questions and how to read results. Another tip from Dr Lewis is to also allow advocacy groups to review the research and advise on how to word questions.

Following on from Dr Lewis’s research and guidance for researchers was a panel discussion, featuring the webinar host Asad Dhunna, Tatenda Musesengwa, Sabrina Trinquetel, Dr Clifford Lewis and Morris Swaby Ebanks. Their discussion involved topics including removing the unconscious bias of researchers and encouraging asking questions. For example, if a client focuses on a feminine hygiene product and they have commissioned research, is there someone on the team who can identify with the use of the product or the target population? They also discussed that structural changes are needed for researchers to better understand participants, so as mentioned by Dr Lewis, trans participants aren’t going to respond to trans on a survey. However, they will respond to questions of “what is your gender identity?” and “what was your assigned sex at birth?”. By asking these questions, we can greatly understand the true numbers of trans participants in research.

Understanding those who fall into intersectional parts of our society is important for several reasons. When it comes to market research, the importance of understanding participants raises the validity of the research. By asking positive questions around gender and sex, instead of othering, it can validate respondents and increase the validity of the research as a true understanding of the researched population can be learnt. It’s also important to be mindful of our colleagues in the industry, understanding the struggles of the people around us can make us become more mindful and empathetic. This can create a work environment that is positive for mental health and allows for intersectional colleagues to grow their careers, increase productivity, and motivate them to seek higher employment.