We spoke to Significant Insights 30 Under 30 Nominee, Sarah Amini, who is the eldest daughter of Afghan refugees. She is the first person in her immediate family to have graduated from a four-year university, at only 19 years old, and with a Master’s degree. She was recently invited to join a company-wide team to discuss and improve diversity in her company’s research. In this role, and in her role as a market researcher overall, she leverages her background and uses her voice to champion more inclusive research.
Take us through your industry journey so far? How did you arrive at this point?
My trajectory to market research is a bit unexpected. My parents are both refugees of war from Afghanistan, fleeing from the Soviet occupation in the 1970s and 80s with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Eventually, my parents ended up in the United States with the hope that they could start over and build a safer, happier life for their family.
As the eldest daughter of immigrant parents, I have never had my hand held in life. While my peers’ parents helped them with their homework; I helped my dad with his small business after I did my homework on my own. In fact, I helped and taught my parents nearly as much as they taught me growing up. Being born and raised in America, my English and cultural understanding is a lot stronger than theirs, and I have helped them navigate a lot of day-to-day activities from a young age.
Outside of home, I was surrounded by people who did not look like me and did not understand me. When I was younger, it was difficult to understand why other kids could not pronounce the name I used at home or why my parents did not feel comfortable volunteering at my school like the other parents did. I did not understand why other kids started asking why my parents were terrorists or why their parents would keep them at a distance. It quickly dawned on me that my family was not like the ones of my peers around me. I realized that everything my parents represented, from what they looked like, to how they spoke, to what they listened to was confusing to, if not outright feared, by those I was surrounded by on a daily basis.
While growing up in this intense cultural dissonance was difficult, it helped me uncover my passion for understanding human behavior. I wanted to know why people made the choices they did and felt what they felt, if only to better understand myself.
Throughout my academic career, I studied psychology to better understand myself, my family, and my peers. My passion for understanding human behavior ultimately led me to market research. I found my way to the San Francisco Bay Area, where I began my market research career at YouGov.
So, what’s so inspiring about our industry?
Market research, I have found, invites individuals from all kinds of demographic and professional backgrounds. It is an industry in which someone like myself is not only welcome, but able to provide a crucial and valuable perspective to the industry.
Diversity and inclusion is at the heart of market research. A basic tenant of market research is being able to collect and assess data that represent the experiences of your total target market. However, certain demographic groups are notoriously difficult to collect data from. Having a diverse team of researchers who may come from these demographic groups is extraordinarily helpful in effectively reaching and raising the voices of otherwise marginalized groups.
There are few industries where one is regularly exposed to and inspired by people with diverse backgrounds. In addition to demographic diversity in market research, individuals of varying professional backgrounds find their way to market research and bring their unique perspective to the field. On my current team alone, I have colleagues with backgrounds in economics, finance, history, politics, and sports broadcasting, among other industries. The array of skill sets and perspectives brought from these backgrounds give us a lot to learn from each other.
In addition, market research is constantly evolving. The methodological and analytical toolkit of a market researcher grows with the corresponding advances in society, technology, and the markets we study overall. Most importantly, this means that there is always more room to learn and grow. We, as researchers, are forever students to our craft.
What message do you have for anyone considering a career in our industry?
Given that our industry is constantly evolving, someone considering a career in market research would be most successful if they are eager to learn and grow. There are always new perspectives to consider, new trends to study, and new problems to solve in market research.
Additionally, market research may be a good fit for someone who is curious about why people make the decisions that they do or feel the way they feel. Questions such as “Does education level affect perceptions of Company X’s latest product?” or “Has young adult satisfaction with Brand Y changed between Q1 and Q2?” are common types of inquiries market researchers investigate.
Finally, an effective market researcher is a storyteller. Data tells us a story, often in the form of numbers, which we use to make recommendations or changes. Many of these stories are straightforward—perhaps fewer teenagers are interested in a social media site between quarters because a new one has started to become more popular. Other times, however, a complex dataset or inconsistent themes in interviews may not be straightforward to untangle. This is a moment in the research process where having a diverse team of researchers can really impact the value of research. Everyone brings their own unique lens through which they interpret the world, and market research can really allow that to shine through.
How do very junior researchers stand out?
It is never too early to embrace what makes you unique and use it to guide you as a researcher. Junior researchers should not be afraid to use their perspectives to bring new life to existing structures.
When I first started out, one of the most useful pieces of advice I had received from my manager was that market research is very humbling. As hard as you try, you will make mistakes along the way, but they are opportunities to learn and grow. Therefore, maintaining a growth mindset as a market researcher is critical to success.
In line with having a growth mindset, passion and enthusiasm always stand out to me. This can be demonstrated by simply asking a thoughtful question or by providing timely updates about progress on projects. Communication is key in almost any job, but especially so when you work with numerous cross-functional teams and other researchers.
More than anything, though, the individuals who take initiative and complete tasks without having to be told to do them are the ones who really shine through. It demonstrates a myriad of positive qualities including competency, confidence, and personal responsibility.