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FINDING BALANCE #IWD2019


7 March 2019

    ResearchBods


For International Women’s Day on 8th March we interviewed Penny Browell, Head of Insight & Strategy, and one of our many brilliant women here at ResearchBods. Learn about her experiences as a woman in market research, find out some top career tips, plus how she finds balance and keeps her wellbeing in check.

 


TELL US ABOUT YOUR CAREER PATH TO DATE?

It’s interesting to cast my mind back to the beginning of my career! I can’t say I ever had a fixed career plan in mind but I’ve enjoyed some great jobs and the path has evolved in a natural way, to fit around the different stages of my life.

It all started with broadcasting. My dad was a TV Executive so I always had a fascination with TV ratings and what made people like certain shows more than others. After school, I completed a degree in Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh which tied into my interest in human psychology. I then began my career working for ITV in London conducting audience research. It was an exciting time to be working in TV, with satellite and digital offerings taking off, TV had to work harder to prove it was the best place for businesses to advertise.

I spent several years here before moving to Discovery Channel where I worked in a more international environment. I then relocated to Geneva for a few years where I was a Media Analyst at the European Broadcasting Union. This gave me the opportunity to look at more varying data sources and gave me a broader understanding of different routes to media funding and broadcasting strategies.

In 2003 I came back to the UK and returned to broadcasting at the BBC where I was Research Manager initially for CBBC and CBeebies and then for BBC One and Drama. I loved working client side and enjoyed the closeness I had to content. However, I worked with a lot of research agencies in these roles and could see the variety of work they experienced and started to crave this myself.

So, after the birth of my first child we decided London was not for us and moved North where I joined Dipsticks, a research agency based in Hexham. I was there for 11 years and progressed to Board Director during this time, whilst also having two more children. I was determined to balance work and motherhood, and although it was overwhelming at times, I wanted to keep challenging myself and maintain some independence.

“I was determined to balance work and motherhood.”

 

WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE IN YOUR ROLE?

As Head of Insight & Strategy at ResearchBods, I manage our team of insight experts and work with global clients on their audience and customer closeness strategy.

Using our bespoke Insight Communities we engage with customers on behalf of clients, answering a range of strategic or tactical questions to inform business decisions. A big part of what we do is designing effective research tasks, writing questionnaires for surveys and discussion guides for online focus groups. We then analyse the data and transcripts to produce reports and give recommendations to clients.

As a team we work closely with the other departments in the business to manage projects and I have regular strategic meetings with our Heads of Departments and Company Directors. I’m often out and about visiting clients around the country as I think face to face time is vital in developing effective working partnerships. I always make time for 121’s with my team too, looking at workload, priorities, development opportunities and process improvements.

 

WHAT MOTIVATES OR INSPIRES YOU AT WORK?

I really enjoy the variety of my role and the range of sectors we get to work on, it makes me look at my day to day life through a different lens. I’m intrigued by consumer behaviour and what motivates people to do what they do, whether that’s the shops they go to, the programmes they watch, where they go on holiday, it all fascinates me! Helping our clients get closer to the customers and seeing the effect of our work is the most satisfying aspect – for example when a client makes a change in their business or introduces a new product or service off the back of our research and recommendations. I also love to see my team develop and become more confident in their skills and expertise. I know having support during my career has really helped me progress so it’s something I’m eager to provide to those starting out on their careers.

 

ANY LESSONS THAT YOU’VE LEARNT ALONG THE WAY?

I’ve got a lot better at managing client expectations around timings! Early on in my career I lacked the confidence to push back when a client was asking for something ‘tomorrow’, I would just say yes even though I knew it was impossible. It’s also okay to advise clients to change their timings or even change their approach entirely. I’ve learnt that client relationships need to be built on trust to get the best results. Clients really respect when you are honest with them, they appreciate transparency and want to look to you as the expert.

 

WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE MRX INDUSTRY AS A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD FOR MEN AND WOMEN?

Generally, I think Market Research is a good industry for women. There are always exceptions, but I feel I’ve been quite fortunate. Women still have to fight a bit harder to be respected in some areas which is obviously not right. It often comes down to leadership and the overall culture of the company. Staff often pick up their attitudes from those at the top, so leaders need to be careful to portray the right messages and viewpoints. Ultimately we’re all in it together so it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, as long as you work as a team to get the job done.

The only time I was met with some old-fashioned attitudes to gender was at EBU. I was employed on the same level as other men but the assumption was always that they would write and present papers whilst I just organised meetings and conferences. That said, across my three years there it did improve massively. I think partly due to my inability to sit back and do as I was told!

 

ANY TIPS FOR WOMEN WANTING TO START OR PROGRESS THEIR CAREER?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and never stop learning. Be confident that you know your stuff, you do, so believe in yourself. Allow yourself to have a sensible work life balance too; you’ll perform better if you don’t work yourself into the ground. You can also learn a lot from your day to day life, it helps to keep things in perspective.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions and never stop learning.”

 

LAST BUT NOT LEAST, HOW DO YOU FIND BALANCE AND KEEP YOUR WELLBEING IN CHECK?

Running – preferably up and down mountains! I find it releases me from the noise of kids and work and gives me headspace. I often figure out tricky work issues whilst running and at the same time it’s keeping me fit and healthy. More recently I’ve discovered yoga and mindfulness to allow me to slow down and give myself a break from the high-speed life we all get caught up in.

The option of flexible working has been key throughout my career. I want to be able to take my kids to school before I put my work hat on. Balancing all the different aspects of your life (work, family, health, hobbies etc) can be tricky, but it can be done with the right support so that all aspects can work together in harmony.


ABOUT INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

IWD is a global day on 8th March celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. International Women’s Day has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people worldwide. Find out more on the official website here.