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Dig Perspectives: Cheryl Hung & Elizabeth Nowicki on the role of women in research

For our first Dig Perspectives talk this year, we’re changing up our format. And the change couldn’t have happened at a better time because this month’s topic is the role of women in the research industry.

Cheryl Hung and Elizabeth Nowicki, VPs at Dig Insights, joined us to share their personal experiences of working in the industry and how the perception of females has changed over the years.

A few things we’ve discussed in our interview:

  • What being “a woman in research” means

  • How working in a female-dominated team differs from working in a male-dominated one

  • Why you need to be emotional and genuine in your workplace

At the end of the episode, Cheryl and Elizabeth will be doing an insights version of Celebrities Read Mean Tweets. As a researcher, you often write recommendations at the end of your client reports. But we decided to use those same recommendations to create statements with empty blanks.

Elizabeth and Cheryl still failed miserably at writing mean tweets so as a last resort, we used our deck of Cards Against Humanity to draw out random phrases to complete their mean tweet recommendation. 

A Few Highlights From the Episode:

Could you share your experiences of working in a female-dominated team vs. male-dominated team? Do you feel like when you were part of the male-dominated team that you had to be more assertive or less emotional? 

I'd say today, it's so different now. It’s not such a big deal. But again, back in the day, I would feel like working with a group of men, it would be harder to be heard. At least I felt that way. Because maybe I'm not as direct and certainly when I was younger, I was not as confident. I was learning a lot, so I wasn't as assertive as I could have been. And so I felt at that time that maybe my voice wasn't always heard. But when a group of women, it was easier to be heard. 

Now, that's changed. Maybe part of that's changed because I’ve become more experienced. I’ve become more confident and I can stand my own. But I like to think, and maybe it's a question I should actually ask some of the junior members, that that is less of an issue today. Hopefully everybody is feeling hurt because there definitely is just more general awareness about diversity and the value of diversity. And making sure we're all hurt because we all have interesting, unique, different ideas.


Yeah. Being heard and just learning from your colleagues around you. I think I was telling you guys one of my stories. We're talking about females and we're talking about young females working with predominantly males and wishing that we had female models that we could look up to, that we can actually connect with. 

But if I were to look back at my younger days when I first started my career, I was emanating from the male role models that were around me. There are some instances where I just kind of look back and think I wasn't a very good human. There were times when I was just plowing forward in my day to day.

And there were moments and I'm thinking about this one time where I wish and I fully regret my actions. And I'll tell you guys the story of when a male colleague, and he was senior to me, came into the office. I was holding out for it. I was just doing my thing. And we're sitting down in a meeting together. And I'm going through the day to day, being “project, project project, blah blah blah”. And I look over at him and he's clearly not in his gait, like he's not even paying attention to me and I just go, “OK, you're not even paying attention to me. What is wrong?”. And he felt vulnerable enough, he trusted me enough to tell me what was bothering him. And he says, “I'm really sorry. I'm not paying attention today because of x y z.

And he proceeded and he proceeded to tell me what was wrong. And in that moment I was kind of taken aback because I didn't realize that your colleagues could just open up to you. Least of all, like a male senior, too, can just open up to you and just start discussing their personal problems. And in hindsight, to be a great human, to be a friend, what I should have done was slam my notebook shut and say, “I'm so sorry, you're going through this. I'm here to talk it out. This can wait. Work can wait.” But obviously, you guys know me. Back in the day, I was just kind of like, “Oh”, silence. And what do I do? “Blah blah blah. Project Project, Project Project”. And I completely dismissed him, and I completely brushed him off. And he just kind of missed a beat and then wiped his face and was like, “I'm so sorry, OK, I'm in it. All right, I'm paying attention. Can you start all over?”. And you can see him just trying to pull himself together. He wasn't that successful, but I plowed on because I'm feeling really uncomfortable now, and I just want to get the hell out of there.

And I look back and I think of that moment. And I just wish, I just wish that someone would have told me like, “Hey, shut up about projects for a second here. Your colleague is not in the game and he just needed to connect with someone. He just did a few minutes of your time to be a human and not show that work, talking things along and whatnot.” But that was what I observed largely around me.


Yeah, that sounds like he was just looking for a human connection at that moment. That makes me think immediately after, did you regret it? Like soon after, did you realize, “Oh, I should have been more human”? And did it open your eyes to, “Oh, I can be more vulnerable and human at work. I don't need to be all business all the time.


Did I realize it the second that I stepped out of the office? No, because I just wanted to be out, cause it was so uncomfortable. I know it took me a long time. It took me a long time to realize and it probably stuck with me all this time. I mean, this was years ago, right? And I'm still remembering it so vividly that I could actually tell you guys the story.

I still remember it because there was something along the years. I was like, “I'm not comfortable with this. And I'm not comfortable with how I behaved and how I acted. And I regret it.” And it wasn't until I started actually needing more women at different ranks to realize that you don't have to be all business all the time, that it's OK to share a little. There are times and there are days when we're not going to be 100% focused at work. And it's OK to just close the notebook for a little bit and just connect with each other.

Because, like you said, we work eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve hours with each other nowadays, so we spend a lot of time with each other. 


Find the rest of the video here.