Are men and women seen as equally suited to lead?

Our new Reykjavik Index report looks at society’s views regarding how suitable men and women are for leadership. What did we find in the UK?
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Reykjavik Index 2020 women leadership
Grace Lown Author

Head of Public Affairs, Public Division

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Society has not become more progressive in how it views equality in leadership, according to the Reykjavik Index report from Kantar and Women Political Leaders. However, the UK is doing better than other countries in the G7 and beyond.

The Reykjavík Index for Leadership measures the extent to which society is comfortable with women in leadership positions, as compared to men, across 23 sectors – from pharmaceutical to government, childcare to media. A score of 100 would indicate complete agreement that men and women are equally suited to leadership, and any score of less than 100 indicates prejudice.

Despite widespread global movements calling for greater equality between men and women, the 2020 research finds that the average G7 Index score remains at 73 – no change from 2019, and up only one point since 2018.

Equality in the UK

The UK’s Index score has increased by eight points compared with the 2019 figure, having fallen by four points between 2018 and 2019. It now ranks joint first with Canada.

equality leadership uk

This is due to an improvement in scores amongst both women (84, up from 79 in 2019) and men (78, up from 67 in 2019). As before, women (in every country) are more likely than men to say that women and men are equally suitable for leadership positions. In fact, of all the countries measured in this 2020 study, women in the UK are the group who hold the highest Index scores.

That said, in 2019, there was a more marked difference in the perceptions of British men and women. The eleven-point difference between men and women from 2018 to 2019 was driven by a fall in the number of men who stated that men and women are equally suitable for leadership. The dissonance gap between men and women in 2020 is much smaller, at six points, with both women and men in the UK demonstrating more progressive views.

Sector-specific research

The UK has particularly high Indices (compared to G7 averages) for Defence and Police (78 vs. the G7 average of 64), Fashion and Beauty (65 vs. 56), Childcare (63 vs. 54), Intelligence Services (83 vs. 73) and Automotive Manufacture (74 vs. 65). The UK ranks first for eleven of the twenty-three sectors, and joint first or second for a further ten sectors.

UK Comfort bubbles men women leadership

Women leaders in the UK

Since last year’s report was published, Boris Johnson has become Prime Minister, replacing Theresa May. Since his appointment, the share of women in senior ministerial roles (the Cabinet) has fallen to 27% – the lowest figure since 2014.

Compared with other G7 countries, the UK has made some progress in getting more women onto company boards. In 2020, women make up more than a third of board members across the FTSE 350 for the first time. However, while the FTSE 350 overall has met the government backed Hampton-Alexander Review’s minimum target of 33% women, more than 100 of FTSE 350 companies have not. Of those that have reached the target, 18 companies have a ‘one and done’ approach, appointing a single woman but taking no further steps.

Mind the gender gap

This inequality is matched financially, too. The UK’s gender pay gap is 17.3%, meaning that women were paid 83 pence for every pound earned by a man*.

As with all other countries in the G7, women in the UK have borne the brunt of COVID-19, juggling with work and childcare. In the UK, women with children are 1.5 times as likely as men with children to have lost or quit their jobs during the COVID-19 “lockdown”, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a UK-based think-tank**. Women are also over-represented in jobs in sectors that have been most badly affected by the lockdown, such as Hospitality and Retail.

Younger people less progressive?

Looking at the scores of the three age groups measured, women in the UK aged 55-65 demonstrate the highest Index scores of all cohorts in the G7, at 87. As in other G7 countries, Index scores are higher in UK in older age groups, indicating older people are more likely to say that women and men are equally suitable to lead. There is a significant gap between the views of people aged 18-34 in the UK with a score of 76 and those aged 35-54, with a score of 83.

equality gender uk ages

Find out more

For more of the findings from the Reykjavik Index 2020/2021 report, please download it here. 


*UK Parliament – House of Commons Library – How much less were women paid in 2019? – January 2020

**The International Monetary Fund – Gender-balanced leadership: Guarding financial stability in crisis time – June 2020

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