No matter the sector, the public think that women are better represented than they actually are

8th March 2023

It is a fact that women remain underrepresented in leadership positions across almost all sectors in the UK. In politics, women currently make up just over a third (35%) of Members of Parliament, hold fewer than three in ten (29%) positions in House of Lords, and occupy just a quarter (25%) of Cabinet attendee positions. Outside of politics too, these numbers do not tell a more positive story for the equal representation of men and women: fewer than four in ten (38%) national newspaper editors are women and, in UK higher education, women hold around a third (28%) of professorial positions. When it comes to recognising the achievements of women, women have received only a fifth (21%) of BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards, under one in ten (6%) Nobel Prizes, and appear in fewer than one in twenty (4%) named statues in London.

Across almost all sectors, men and women remain unequally represented. But, is the extent of women’s underrepresentation recognised by the public? To investigate further, Deltapoll surveyed a nationally representative sample of more than a thousand British adults and asked, if they had to guess, what proportion of positions women currently hold in various fields across politics, sports, cultural, media, education, business, and the judiciary. Given a sliding scale from 0%, which represented “none of them”, and 100%, which represented “all of them”, respondents were tasked with providing their best estimate.

Are the public aware of how well represented women are? What came through in the data was that, in almost all cases, British adults tend to overestimate the proportion of women, relative to how well represented they are in reality. And, in doing so, tend to underestimate the true deficit in gender parity in numerical representation.

For only the percentage of women in FTSE 100 boards and as national newspaper editors, did the public underestimate the presence of women (by 6 percentage points and 2 percentage points, respectively). But in all other cases, respondents believe that women are better represented than they actually are, sometimes by a lot. Out of the hundreds of statues in central London, only 4% depict women, where respondents estimated, on average, a number that was nearly eight times higher than the reality (31%). Similarly, respondents guessed that the percentage of women Nobel Prize laureates was more than six times higher than their actual share of prizes (37% compared to 6%).

Are women respondents better than men at estimating women’s representation? The data suggested yes, but only marginally. Overall, women still tend to overestimate women’s representation, but in all areas except FTSE 100 board members, national newspaper editors, and Nobel Prize winners, the gap between women’s estimates and the actual percentage of women is smaller. For MPs and Peers, women respondents only overestimate women’s presence by 2 percentage points, where men overestimate by 8 (MPs) and 9 (Peers) percentage points.

Our data also makes clear, however, that for men and women respondents alike, perceptions of women’s representation are never optimistic enough for guesses of gender parity.

Overall therefore, women remain underrepresented numerically in business, politics, media, the judiciary, top positions in higher education, and in awards. However, our data suggests that GB adults tend to be unaware of by quite how much men are overrepresented.


Deltapoll interviewed 1,063 British adults online between 2nd – 6th March 2023. The data has been weighted to be representative of the British adult population as a whole. View the full results here.


Dr Lotte HargraveAuthor: Dr Lotte Hargrave