Have Women Leaders Excelled During The COVID-19 Crisis?

Last evening when I checked the count of worldwide COVID-19 cases, the figure showed that it has crossed an alarming mark of 32 million. Unfortunately, the number of cases keeps rising everyday. As the deadly virus is holding humanity in its frightening grip, an overwhelmingly large number of news items related to the illness are sprawling their roots in social media. While some of these are circulated without any basis, there are definitely others that have authenticity.

A news that made its rounds quite early in the crisis and is still talked about is that women leaders are doing an outstanding job in handling the problem compared to their male counterparts. Among others, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, Germany’s Angela Merkel, and Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen are cited as some of the examples.

The avalanche of praise that has descended on these female leaders led two researchers from the United Kingdom to examine the veracity of the claim. Dr. Uma Kambhampati from the University of Reading and Supriya Garikipati from the University of Liverpool compared each country led by a woman to a neighbor country led by a man. They took into account the similarities of the countries in terms of factors like age, population, GDP per capita, and health expenditure. Germany, for instance, was paired with the United Kingdom, and New Zealand was compared to Ireland.

The results highlighted that women leaders did do a fabulous job

The researchers arrived at the conclusion that women leaders did a fabulous job in handling the COVID-19 situation. The primary reason behind their success was attributed to the fact that women are more averse to risk taking when it comes to human lives. Therefore, they closed their countries earlier than those nations with male leaders. On that note however, it was also recognized that women leaders are more willing to take risks with regard to the country’s economy.

Although the countries in the study did show a rise in the number of deaths in the later days of the pandemic, they were in a much better position than countries like the USA, the UK, India, Russia, and Brazil.

Women leaders show their humane qualities during the crisis

Women leaders have been found to be more compassionate and nurturing, and these qualities have had a therapeutic influence during turbulent times. A much earlier study from 1990 pointed out that leadership styles of men and women leaders differed. While men focus more on a “task-oriented” style, women use an “interpersonally oriented” approach.

It was encouraging when Prime Minister Erna Salberg arranged for a special news conference to answer questions about COVID-19 from children in Norway. Likewise, Jacinda Ardern was appreciated for checking how her citizens were doing through Facebook live sessions. These gestures undoubtedly help in spreading positive vibes and boosting the morale of the citizens.

Can we accept for sure that women are handling COVID-19 better?

As impressive as it may sound that women leaders have emerged as the winners over men in keeping the corona crisis under control, there is the other side of the story too. An article in the Harvard Business Review made a valid point by throwing light on an important fact. There are just 18 countries with female leaders. These nations account for just 7% of the world’s population. Hence the sample size is statistically insignificant to draw concrete results.

The countries where women leaders have excelled are the ones that have less sexism and more inclusivity and are the ones that have broken the glass ceiling. The fact that women are heading these countries is itself a case in point. So the strong handling of the corona situation is related more to the level of efficiency of the country as a whole. Coupled with this is the progressive mindset which was prevalent in the nation even in the pre-COVID era. A male leader in that position may have managed the situation as competently because of the country’s culture.

In a more recent analysis in the Washington Post, it was stated that the relationship between female leadership and lower mortality rates could be purely coincidental. It cited a Yale University study of 132 countries which did not show any correlation between the gender of leaders and the handling of the COVID crisis.

The economic downside

The effects of the pandemic have encompassed a much larger sphere beyond infection and mortality rates. The coronavirus has been responsible for creating a worldwide recession. Hence it has been discussed that the economic crisis could spell out bad news for women leaders who have prioritized social policies like healthcare and child care and closed their countries early.

But women can still emerge as efficient, responsible leaders!

After having evaluated the reality of the situation and separating the myths and facts, we still need to applaud the good job done by women leaders. Although they account for a very small percentage of heads of state, they have stood out and set a precedent. They have indeed emerged as role models for the future. If during the crisis they have done an excellent job by navigating the ship in the right direction, it should be an eye-opener for the world.

The narrative needs to change. Instead of always envisioning a man as the leader, we should be ready to allow that place to be given to a qualified woman who is equally capable and can prove her potential.

Former US President Barack Obama, who champions the cause of women, very respectfully said that although not perfect, women are indisputably better leaders than men: “I am absolutely confident that, for two years, if every nation on earth was run by women, you would see a significant improvement across the board on just about everything – living standards and outcomes.”

So here’s a toast to the members of my female fraternity with a message: “Cheers to women power! We can definitely do it!”

( This article was featured in Women’s Web )

Image source: usatoday.com

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