Emel has thrived in the Research Industry for over 20 years working with blue chip clients such as Barclays Bank, Sky, Microsoft, Channel 4 and HP even during her first research role at (Synovate) what is now Ipsos. After honing her online methodology and account management skills at Greenfield-Ciao, Emel went on to have senior roles at Research Now where she handled diverse portfolios and key global accounts in London and led the Australian Client Development team in Sydney to implement large scale change management, in order to bring the APAC business in line with Global strategy.
On her return to the UK, Emel worked as Innovation and Client Onboarding Director at tech-based research firm Verve and successfully onboarded clients such as Walgreen’s, Gartner and the Federation of Small Businesses.
Emel was one of the early joiners to Lucid’s London team, working to build and manage our commercial operations from Year 1. Three years after joining, she was promoted to Senior Vice President, responsible for both the Sales and Post-sales teams.
1. Tell us a bit about your current role.
I am an SVP of Lucid, a research technology platform that brings global buyers and sellers of human answers together. The result is the world’s largest community of real people ready to share answers, opinions, behaviours, profiles, and more. From DIY packages to a fully managed service, we pride ourselves on delivering truly bespoke solutions for our clients.
2. Tell us a bit about your career journey.
I fell into my career completely by accident. Many of my friends and family had vocations and it bothered me at the time that I didn’t.As I grew older, I realised that there are many paths to career success, and that it is entirely possible to find a fulfilling and exciting career in unexpected realms. It didn’t take me long to realise my career offered me the opportunity to work with interesting clients and colleagues – I love the diversity each and every day brings and I’ve also seen how well this has played to some of my own strengths.
3. What career challenges have you faced in business and how have you managed them?
Many and myriad! I’ve lost count of how often I have been accused of being “bossy” and “difficult”. I’ve dealt with casual sexism from managers who either expected me to be more like a man, or more like the feminine ideal, in order to get ahead. And I’ve struggled with understanding what the underlying reason was when I was overlooked for promotion, even though I only received positive feedback in appraisals. I’ve been fortunate in working with a number of incredible women who became great friends over the years and, together,we learned how and when to navigate expectations of women in dynamic workplaces. We were and remain a wonderful support network to one another. And through these friendships, I’ve felt more powerful in my ability to know my own path and trust myself.
4. What is your one career achievement you feel most proud of?
Perhaps an odd answer but I left a role that had become impossible to perform at a high standard, due to a difficult relationship that had become toxic with a sexist and inexperienced manager. On the surface and to outsiders, it seemed like I had the perfect job and perfect life. But, I was burned out and deeply unhappy that I wasn’t able to turn the situation with my boss around, and salvage a position I had previously loved.
Quitting isn’t something that comes easily to me, but in this instance I knew it was the right thing to do, even if it didn’t sit 100% right with me initially. Knowing your worth and believing you have the ability to find a company with the same values as you, is so important to empowering women and helping them succeed in the right roles throughout their career.
5. What factors do you believe have contributed most to your career success?
Luck, hard work, a determination plus some incredible mentors at critical points of my career, whose time and advice was invaluable. I truly believe that having supportive people around you – within your workplace or socially – is essential for success.
As a result, I have always strived to unofficially mentor those who have been open to it. I understand how important advice was to me in my career and I’ll always make time for those who ask for it. I made an unofficial mentor of a colleague in my first job, who I admire deeply for her achievements and who always made time for me when I needed it, even after I had moved jobs and company. She still works in the industry and I will never forget the contribution she made to my career.
6. Do you think women still face an uphill battle in obtaining senior leadership roles and getting a seat at the table in business today? And how do you think these barriers can be overcome?
There’s been much talk over the years about the practical reasons businesses do better when there is equitable and diverse representation in senior leadership positions. However, the reality is that it takes time to create real, deep societal changes. The need for all of us to challenge established (and parochial) thinking with regard to women, race, sexual orientation, etc is evident.
Fortunately, younger generations simply don’t accept outdated norms and have no compunction challenging them. I feel we’re starting to see the beginnings of real change. We need more women in senior roles, and equally – we need more supportive workplaces that are inclusive of people of all different races, ethnicities, and backgrounds, and we need to hold businesses accountable for making this happen.
7. What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women in business today?
Firstly, we need to be conscious of hiring practices. Are there gender imbalances in certain roles or functions across the organisation? If yes, then we need to ask why and be very honest with ourselves. Businesses also need to be more open about highlighting gender pay gaps and earnings differences across their organisations.
The gender pay gap is very real and very problematic. A briefing from the House of Commons in November of last year showed that the median pay for all UK employees was 15.5% less for women than it was for men. In 2019, it was reported that women earned £0.83 for every £1 of their male counterparts. This is not, and should not be acceptable in 2021.
Then, there is the elephant in the room: those employees looking to start a family. I cannot stress enough how important it is for today’s businesses of all sizes and shapes to provide women with real opportunities to progress in their careers, irrespective of whether they take time off to have children.
It’s one thing to give lip service to equality, it’s another to put money where your mouth is to actually create these changes.
8. In your experience, have you seen businesses moving to create these sorts of changes needed to facilitate equality?
There are certainly many businesses and organisations that are at the forefront of this, and still many that are lagging behind for one reason or another. At Lucid, for example, our leadership team is focussed on creating and supporting success at all levels within the company, regardless of background, ethnicity, race, religion, or gender. In my time here, I have set about doing things differently to create a real balance within the team and to ensure we hire, recognise, and reward equally.
This needs to be implemented across businesses globally – we need to strive to create cultures of inclusion where teams can thrive in an environment where homogeneity is excluded and real diversity of opinion, culture and experience is championed.
While it is important to bring the industry and business world into focus to push equality, diversity and inclusion, we also need to take the baby steps needed within our own organisations to push forward initiatives that matter and that work for our business. For example, at Lucid, we have supported working parents in their return to the workplace, with reduced hours and working capacity that aligns to their individual circumstances, then helping them move back into their full time role at the right pace, when they have been ready to do so.
We have a significant number of women in mid to senior manager positions here who are hungry for success. It’s our responsibility to set them up to succeed in a way that works for them individually as well as for the wider team and the whole of the business.
9. Do you think the pandemic will have an impact on women’s ability to advance their careers?
Unfortunately, it’s already had a broad impact and will sadly continue to unless we hold businesses accountable. Gender needs to be placed at the heart of all government’s economic strategy as a response to COVID, not least as women have been disproportionately affected, either from working in the highly impacted services sector, or from being more likely to lose their jobs than men, or because women are still responsible for the majority of care-giving and domestic duties.
The evidence is clear – businesses that have a more balanced gender split in senior positions perform better. Now is the time for businesses, who are all keen to resume “normal” practices, are accountable for ensuring they create more, not fewer opportunities for women in key positions.
10. What industries do you think are leading examples of businesses prioritising diversity and inclusion and that could also help accelerate the curve for women in leadership?
Tech has traditionally been an industry lacking in diversity. Market Research, conversely, has always attracted women and has produced many successful female leaders. Attitudes are starting to change and calling out a lack of diversity in business has become more commonplace, and acceptable. Certainly the democratisation of culture is more important than industry, to my mind, and toxic environments can occur anywhere. Most people believe, minimally, women can do many jobs just as well as men. We need to start acting on this belief instead of just talking about it. This stems from hiring practices, providing equal opportunities and making commitments to equal pay.
11. Last but certainly not least, what advice would you give women looking to forge ahead in their career today, regardless of industry sector?
Don’t be frightened of your voice – speak up and make mistakes but never feel that you didn’t say what you thought. Don’t be afraid of showing your vulnerabilities – these show we are human and leadership is not about power. Equally, don’t be afraid of failure – these experiences shape us and failure is an innate part of success. Learn to truly understand your strengths and hone these skills – you’ll need to adapt and change throughout your career but self-awareness is crucial to progressing quickly.
Lastly, build a community with other women in the workplace – form friendships that transcend work, as these will empower you and enable you to challenge yourself and others. To this end – support your female colleagues when you see them impacted by unconscious bias.
It will take a village to create real and lasting change but remember, you are that change.