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UK Insights

How women in the UK are shaping their future

Kirsty Cooke

Head of Digital Content, UK

Policy 24.10.2018 / 11:00


They’re taking the lead and transforming society. Are brands ready for them?

As part of our #WhatWomenWant? initiative, we look at how women in the UK, and around the world, are demanding change – and how they are creating it. 

In the UK, the #MeToo #PressForProgress and #TimesUp movements have been far-reaching campaigns that have left many feeling like change is on the way. In a Lightspeed survey from earlier this year, we found that 56% of people in the UK agreed that ‘these movements have made gender equality a more prominent issue’ and 44% believed that they had had a positive impact on gender equality. But when asked ‘Generally, do you think gender equality has improved, versus 12 months ago?’, just 43% of women and 45% men said Yes. There is still much to be done.

Kantar Consulting has examined how women’s perceptions of their role in society have shifted over the past five years.They’re evolving their identities, claiming independence, asserting control over financial matters and harnessing social momentum through technology. The pace of this change shows no signs of slowing.

‘What we see today is a building momentum among women to promote change in bolder and more disruptive ways,’ explains Jennifer James, Kantar Consulting EVP and Head of Global MONITOR.

Women -Ready -for -Change

Agents of Change

While women are looking for societies that are more open to change, they are also increasingly shouldering the responsibility for improving the world around them. Younger women in particular recognise their power as individuals to effect change through their conscious consumption and behavior in society.

Young -Women -Confident

Women at Work

Womens’ role as primary financial providers is a relatively new area of growth. However, Kantar Consulting research indicates that women around the world are increasingly taking on the role and, as a result, are feeling many of the same pressures that men do when it comes to work.

For example, 51% of women globally feel the same pressure as men to have a good job and make a lot of money. That number is even higher in Eastern Europe and Latin America.

Pressure -Money -Women

As more women look to work and provide for their families, the pressure to be seen as independent and self-reliant has also increased. 35% of UK women (compared to 33% of UK men) feel pressure to be more self-reliant. Global numbers are even higher, with a more significant gender gap.

Self -Reliant -Women

In the UK, we undertook a study looking at how well financial services organisations were attracting female customers. The Winning Over Women research found that despite running household budgets and being responsible for financial decisions, and indeed becoming entrepreneurs, many women didn’t feel like the advertising from UK banks really understood them or spoke to their true needs and desires.

They also felt alienated when it came to more complex financial products. Only 38% of women claim to feel ‘in control of their financial future’ compared to 51% of men. Our research estimated that, if financial institutions more engaging to women, and able to support women in increasing their confidence levels for saving and investing (taking them to the next decile in terms of confidence), around £133 billion would potentially be redirected to savings and investments.


Just as there exists a broader definition of what’s acceptable for male, sexual, racial or aging identities, women today are also enjoying a broader canvas and are exploring different aspects of what ‘feminine’ can mean. In other words, women are forging new identities in spite of the other roles they are playing in society. 

Female -Freedom

This is particularly true in the UK. A massive 63% of women agree they are free to shape their identities in any way they want; only 52% of men feel the same.

Are brands tapping into this? A study from sister WPP company J Walter Thompson – Elastic Women: The Female Edit – found that older women in particular are fed up of stereotypes in advertising that ignore their more nuanced and varied identities. 67% say advertisers only care about young people. Meanwhile, eight out of ten women don’t recognize their lives in the products and services that target them. Far from being at the end of their working lives, 68% of UK women in their 50s and 60s say they are more outspoken than they used to be. 78% of women over 50 control household budget and 55% are main breadwinners – and they are outspending millennials. 

Overall, it is critical for advertisers to avoid glib stereotypes. Kantar Millward Brown research has shown that more progressive advertising generates stronger engagement, and delivers better branded impact. And as Kantar Millward Brown's Jane Bloomfield told Campaign, 'If half the population don’t see themselves as consumers of a particular brand, that creates a bottom line problem.'


In richer nations, labour force participation among women is growing, buoyed by increased educational opportunities and changing cultures. Nonetheless, the barriers to formal work for women remain high, and many more women than men find themselves hindered by traditional social expectations, such as the unequal burden of home and childcare.

With expectations continually growing, there’s still an imbalance of stress and responsibilities between men and women. Until men assume equal home and childcare duties, women will continue to be overstretched as they add a greater number of responsibilities. 

Stressed -Women


Research from Kantar Health’s National Health and Wellness Survey (as part of PACER) comparing health outcomes from 2007 with 2017 found that, compared to men, women in the UK are more likely to self-report depression or anxiety. The percentage of women experiencing depression (28%) or anxiety (42%) has increased from 10 years ago. Kathy Annunziata, VP Research Services at Kantar Health, notes: ‘Anxiety and depression rates are highest among younger women. Female homemakers report comparable levels of anxiety to those in the workforce. The results from ten years ago showed that homemakers were more apt to be anxious than employed women.’

What’s next?

These drivers of change will reach a tipping point. Women are demanding changes in the work place, where they’ll pioneer more creative and flexible approaches to product innovation and ways of working.  With so much stress in their daily lives, mental wellbeing will rise as a top driver of productivity, inciting companies to invest in mental health practices and policies. It’s also clear that men are not grasping the scale of the problem or agreeing with women on what the ramifications should be when it comes to workplace sexual harassment.

‘While women are dominating this conversation we’re excited to see how men become a part of it. Beyond them wearing ‘Times Up’ badges on the red carpet, we want to see men truly join in the conversation and become equal and cooperative partners in the fight for gender equality. There is an opportunity here for brands to lead the charge in including men in this conversation and being more inclusive and open,’ say Hannah Robbins, Hazel Barkworth and Claudia Bhugra-Schmid of Kantar Consulting.

‘Brands have already started to voice their support for these movements, but we would caution them not to ‘brandsplain’ – don’t assume that the people you are talking to know less than you do. They are highly knowledgeable and informed, so use them as partners and celebrate what they can bring to the table. We would also urge brands to ensure that they have the credibility to have a voice in this space – clean out any gender skeletons from your closet to arm yourself against hypocrisy. Real change comes from tangible actions. People will respond better to you reflecting female diversity in your boardroom than in a comms campaign.’

A latent need to ‘do it all’ will be a boon to products, services or brands that make women’s lives easier. Using the female solidarity and mass social media campaigns, there’s a chance we may see a wave of newly elected women officials, that will take hold around the world.

By having the courage to take the lead in their own lives and demand what they want, women are on the verge of creating a new status quo worldwide. Are you prepared?

This article was originally published in March 2018. 

Source : Kantar Consulting, Lightspeed, Kantar Health, Kantar Millward Brown, JWT

Editor's Notes

Come along to our exhibition celebrating the last 100 years of marketing to women, What Women Want?

Which products, campaigns and adverts were considered empowering to women at each point in history? As we mark the centenary of the first women being granted the vote in the UK, what can brands learn from these standout examples? 

This is an ambitious Kantar UK initiative that is open to all from 21 - 29 November in London. Find out more at

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