Women in Market Research – an Interview with Angela Giebner

By is running a series of interviews entitled “Women in Research” – they talked this week to Angela Giebner, MD at our Berlin Office. Enjoy!

Q: Happy Thinking People has a remarkable number of female employees. Why is that?

Angela: Well, we employ people from a wide range of professional backgrounds, nationalities, sexual orientations, different talents, mentalities…. openness can only ever be a matter of basic principle – that’s our philosophy.

It’s actually quite simple: we’re a diverse, heterogeneous bunch, right across the board, and have always embraced diversity as a principle.

We also have many employees with families. And despite being a service provider, we’re organized so that everyone can work part-time, male or female, even in management or leadership positions. Full-time working was never a pre-requisite for a career with Happy Thinking People. No one has to choose between family and career.

Q: What characterises female leadership?

Angela: You should put this question to my co-managing director Oliver Schieleit. He believes he is actually the “female” part of our leadership duo! Seriously, I struggle with the concept of “female leadership”. You slide very quickly into the world of stereotypes. If I say that ultimately I am the stricter of the two, but also the more caring one, that I listen at length and reflect on what has been said, rather than immediately coming up with instant solutions, then I’m also adopting stereotypical labelling: male = strict, female = empathic.

Q: How did you prepare for your leadership role?

Angela: I’ve just grown into it, it’s seemed a perfectly normal process. I don’t want to be disingenuous though – sure, you can take an outside perspective and say: aha, there are five men and just one woman in H/T/P’s German management team….

Honestly, this was neither intentional nor something we forced into being. It just happened. If you look at the H/T/P global group, you see a different picture – our Indian operation is managed by a woman, a new female colleague has recently joined the leadership team at our Paris office, our Analytics and IT unit is led by a woman and we have a female fieldwork services manager!

Q: What qualities do you need to succeed as a woman in market research?

Angela: The same qualities a man needs.

I honestly haven’t experienced customers taking me less seriously simply because I’m a woman. Of course, ultimately it depends on the type of male you’re working with or for. It can be pretty exhausting working with men who have an attitude of “Hey here I am, everything I do is right’ – certainly more challenging than working with men who have the ability to be self-critical, or ask for feedback. But I equally experience uncooperative and dominant female professionals who their teams seem to be afraid of.

Q: Is the market research industry generally a world of men?

Angela: Well, the qualitative research world is very female and the quantitative research is very male. Supposedly women are better listeners whereas men are meant to be better with numbers, but that is probably a pretty simplistic way of looking at things, even if there is probably plenty of data to support this argument.

I don’t think there’s an overarching answer to your question. What I do find amazing is that when women have children, they often find themselves confronted with multiple challenges, as the onus of responsibility, the proverbial “buck” lands ultimately with them. Sure, men now take paternity leave too, but part-time work is almost always taken by mothers, because men are more indispensable and/or earn more. In some cases the labour division appears extremely traditional. However, I don’t think this is something specific to our industry.

Q: Is age an issue for you?

Angela: Of course. Especially in my life-phase of being no longer young but without having attained wisdom…. But who doesn’t have age as an issue? You should listen to some of my male colleagues: “OMG, I look like my dad, I’m getting a beer-belly….”. Not that women are much different, they just communicate it differently, less openly.

Q: Have you had experience with women being particularly bitchy?

Angela: Everyone can be a bitch, men and women. Where does this term “bitchiness” actually come from anyway? Why is there no male equivalent? There’s a German phrase “Vollpfosten” which is masculine, it means “complete idiot” – there’s no female equivalent as far as I am aware. “Bitchiness” is an issue, sure, but it’s more a function of hierarchical structures or competitive situations in my view. I certainly don’t see it as a female thing.

Q: Was there a person who supported you in your career path? Perhaps even a mentor or a role model?

Angela: Absolutely, four people, to be precise. All men, mentors rather than role models. I see the concept of “career path” more broadly, rather like life’s journey. Professionally, it would be my boss, Sven Arn. He’s placed so much trust in my abilities over the years that I’ve had no choice but to develop them further!

Q: Are you a member of a women’s or a mixed network?

Angela: I am a big fan of the HBA (Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association).

A friend invited me to the European Summit in London last year and I was immediately taken with it, it was great. The sight of this huge hall, full of women, with that very special atmosphere that women create, greeting one other with a smile, or holding a door open for example. It was inspirational – listening to all the smart, eloquent talks from female scientists, women who have created companies, women who are down-sizing, women in managerial positions in large companies, networking with a diverse mix of women with varying plans, ambitions, goals, dreams.

The basic idea is one of mutual support and promotion. There’s also a broad programme on offer from mentoring to webinars, for example. It’s all under the heading of gender equality, aiming to promote female talent and empower women for leadership positions in the healthcare industry.

And because I see the whole thing as both intelligent and down-to-earth, I have recently accepted the position of Director at Large of Membership and Volunteers for the newly established Berlin hub.

This interview was first published in German here: Women in Research/

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