Men less likely than women to need intelligence and hard work to get ahead, public say

New research to support the launch of King’s College London’s World Questions event series reveals public perceptions of what helps or hinders women’s equality in Britain and around the world.

The author(s)

  • Suzanne Hall Public Affairs
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New research to support the launch of King’s College London’s World Questions event series, which begins with Hillary Rodham Clinton and Julia Gillard on 13 November, reveals public perceptions of what helps or hinders women’s equality in Britain and around the world.

Around 20,000 people across 28 countries were surveyed by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, King's College Policy Institute and Ipsos MORI for the study.

UK findings

  • 26% think intelligence is one of the most important factors helping women get ahead, compared with 17% who say the same for men.
  • 37% say working hard is key for women’s success, compared with 29% for men.
  • 29% say having connections is important in men succeeding, almost twice as many as the 15% who say the same for women.
  • One in 10 (11%) Britons say a woman’s looks are a key factor in helping them get ahead, while just 4% say the same for men.
  • Employers get most of the blame for preventing equality between women and men. The top three barriers according to the British public are:
  1. Employers not doing enough to close the gender pay gap (27%).
  2. A lack of employer support for women in balancing work and care responsibilities (22%).
  3. Employers not promoting women to senior positions (21%).
  • After employment issues, unfair media portrayals of women are seen as the next biggest cause of inequality between men and women. 16% of Britons say this is a key factor, the highest of all 28 countries surveyed, compared with the global average of 9%.
  •  A lack of women in positions of political power is mentioned by a similar proportion of Britons (15%) – in line with the global average (14%).
  • 35% say most progress has been made with women’s representation in government and politics, the top area cited.

Which two or three of the following, if any, do you think have been the most important factors that help women / men to get ahead

Global findings

  • Globally, men (18%) are twice as likely as women (9%) to say that gender equality has already been achieved in their country.
  • Around the world, people are more likely to say intelligence is important for women to get ahead (28%) than for men (20%), and that never giving up is key (25% for women vs 16% for men).
  • Women (15%) are twice as likely as men (7%) to have their looks cited as a key factor in their success.
  • By contrast, personal networks are seen as more important for men’s success. Globally, 22% say being connected is key for men, compared with 13% who say the same for women. And 18% say political connections are particularly important for men, versus 8% for women.
  • Over a third of people in Russia (35%) say that women’s looks are important in helping them get ahead, the highest in the survey. By contrast, the global average is 15%.
  • People in China are most likely to think that women and men are already equal in their country, with 28% saying this, compared with an average of 13% globally.
  • Countries most likely to blame the government for not doing enough to promote gender equality include Turkey (32%), Brazil (29%) and Hungary, Peru, South Africa and Spain (all on 25%).   
  • Men and boys not being educated about the importance of gender quality is the most-cited reason for inequality between women and men in Mexico (38%), Argentina (34%), Chile (34%) and Peru (39%).

Which two or three of the following, if any, do you think have been the most important factors that help women/men to get ahead

Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia and Chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, said:

This research reinforces that people understand men are more likely to get ahead in life because of the old boys’ network, while women have to be significantly better and more intelligent to even get a foot in the door. Hillary Rodham Clinton is someone who knows a great deal about being more qualified, competent and hard-working than her male peers. I’m delighted to welcome her to King’s College London to launch the World Questions event series with a discussion about her experience as a leader and what needs to change so that more women can follow her lead.

Professor Rosie Campbell, Director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, said:

Decades of research has shown that men have an easier route to the top than women, and it’s reassuring that the public now recognise this – but concrete action is needed if we’re to level the playing field. Our survey also reveals that people see employers as a key barrier to equality, and they’re right that the world of work is holding many women back. Expanding access to flexible working and unbiased recruitment processes would be good places to start.

Kelly Beaver, Managing Director of Public Affairs at Ipsos MORI, said:

Our research shows that the adage ‘It’s not what you know but who you know’ still holds true – at least for men. For women to get ahead, it’s less about having connections and more about hard work, being intelligent, having the right qualifications and never giving up. That said, our research also shows that resilience alone will not enable women to achieve equality with men – they also need positive action and, in many countries, responsibility for this is seen to lie with employers. Our work also shows that representation matters – you cannot be what you cannot see. In line with this, over the next 25 years the three areas identified as being most important to achieve equality are representation of women in government and politics, women having senior positions in business and women reaching CEO/board positions.

Technical Notes

The survey is an international sample of 19,943 adults aged 18-74 in the United States and Canada and 16-74 in all other countries. Interviews were conducted between 20 September and 4 October 2019.
The survey was conducted in 28 countries around the world, via the Ipsos Online Panel system in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Great Britain, and the USA.
Approximately 1000 individuals were surveyed in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Great Britain, and the USA. Approximately 500 individuals were surveyed in Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Hungary, India, Mexico, Malaysia, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Turkey.
Where results do not sum to 100 or the “difference” appears to be+-1 more/less than the actual, this may be due to rounding, multiple responses or the exclusion of don't knows or not stated responses.
Data are weighted to match the profile of the population. 17 of the 28 countries surveyed generate nationally representative samples in their countries (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Poland,, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and United States). Brazil, Chile, China, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, South Africa and Turkey produce a national sample that is considered to represent a more affluent, connected population. These are still a vital social group to understand in these countries, representing an important and emerging middle class.

The author(s)

  • Suzanne Hall Public Affairs

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