Men and women answer: Is it luck or hard work?

By: Carleen Sanchez / April 8, 2019

“How much of your success do you attribute to luck, or just hard work?”

This quote is easily recognizable to most avid podcast listeners.  In 2016, NPR’s Guy Raez launched a podcast series called “How I Built This,” that features interviews with founders of some of the most iconic brands and companies.  After a thorough discussion of these entrepreneurs’ lifelong journeys to success, he always concludes by asking this question.

We consistently hear about (and often can relate to) the external and internal challenges females face in publicly acknowledging their achievements as results of their own talents, skills, and perseverance.  

After listening to an episode of “How I Built This” one morning, I was intrigued to see if the contrast in answers between the males and females interviewed would align with the popularized research studies on this subject.

After a thorough analysis of the entire podcast series, I was surprised by my findings: 37% of men said luck was the root cause of their success and only 6% said hard work, whereas only 18% of women credited luck and 29% attributed hard work.


The variance was most clearly demonstrated in a comparison between answers of male and female Lonely Planet (the travel guide book publisher) cofounders.  Maureen Wheeler solely acknowledged a strong judgement capability, while Tony Wheeler highlighted the role of luck.

What could be the cause of this differentiation?  

Maybe, the females that picked hard work could have consistently, publicly recognized their success as a result of their own hard work. Confidence and self-awareness may have been driving factors in why these women originally pursued their passions and advocated for not only their ideas, but for themselves.  So, a reason why they became successful and ended up on this podcast, as women only made up 33% of the individuals even asked this question.

Or perhaps, the disparity is due to the harsh reality that hard work was the dominating factor because these women had to spend extra effort fighting the gender biases and barriers present in every industry.

As the founder of Chicken Salad Chick Stacy Brown said,

“It’s been too hard for me to say it was luck.”

The most popular answer (chosen by 57% of males and 53% of females) was a combination of luck, hard work, or an additional factor. Often, individuals discussed the critical role of timing, particularly in the market.  

Barre3 founder Sadie Lincoln pinpointed the essential alignment of the boutique movement, a societal desire for connectivity and community, and her own passion for exercise teaching.  Some interviewees highlighted the fortunate opportunities provided by being in the United States such as Mariam Naficy founder of Minted, an online marketplace for designers and artists.  She said:

“I mean think about what would’ve happened if I had not been able to leave Iran, right? How many people are in areas around the world where they can’t escape what the situations that their governments are creating for them.  Think about all those talented people that won’t ever have a chance.”

Others talked about the luck of having a strong network of supporters: parents, spouses, a higher power, co-founders, investors, employees, and customers who each made invaluable contributions.  

My favorite answer was from Julie Rice who co-founded the fitness company SoulCycle with Elizabeth Cutler:

“And I don’t think anything about it was lucky. I think the only lucky thing was that Elizabeth and I bumped into each other.”  

Although not directly identified as a factor to their success, the common thread weaved within this category of “combination of factors” was humility.  These females spoke to their hard work, skill set, and talents while recognizing the importance of something or someone beyond themselves.  This humility allowed for an openness to learn from others, receive help, ask for input, and persist through setbacks.  

Also, this type of self-awareness provided the opportunity for connection- with employees, customers, the community- and consequently be able to form strong and meaningful relationships vital to their success.

In conclusion, I don’t believe there is a “right” answer.  Regardless of what option they selected, all these women have reached admirable levels of success.  And since it’s their path, these women have the only perspective and ability to determine what were the largest factors to building that path.  When we get asked this question, we too have the power to decide for ourselves what led to our success.  

We should just ensure we each recognize the value and results of our hard work, gain the benefits we deserve from our contributions, and feel comfortable with the level of acknowledgement we receive along the way. And lastly, we should continue to support our fellow females on their journey too.

What do you think of these results? What factors do you attribute to your current success?

“Yeah I’ve always said thats is a 1/3 being smarter, a 1/3 working harder, and a 1/3 luck.  No. I take that back. It’s ½ being smarter, ½ working harder, and a ½ pure luck. Because that adds up to more than 1..”

– Sandy Lerner: Founder of Cisco Systems & Urban Decay Founder


What did you think? Let’s chat. Comment below!


Empower future female leaders


Inspiring interview delivered each month

You might also like…

Check out our interviews…