Since the beginning of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there’s been a lot of media attention paid to the relationship between female leaders at the helm of various nations and the effectiveness of their handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
The actions of female leaders in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Germany, Taiwan and New Zealand are cited as supporting evidence that women are managing the crisis better than their male counterparts. Resilience, pragmatism, benevolence, trust in collective common sense, mutual aid and humility are mentioned as common features of the success of these women leaders.
It would be easy to conclude outright that women make better leaders than men. Our academic education and experience as certified corporate directors, however, tell us that would be an overly simplistic verdict, and it’s actually more complicated than that.
Equitable countries managing pandemic better.
Let’s broaden our perspective. What if countries led by women are managing the pandemic more effectively not because they are women, but because the election of women is a reflection of societies where there is a greater presence of women in many positions of power, in all sectors?
Greater involvement of women results in a broader perspective on the crisis, and paves the way for the deployment of richer and more complete solutions than if they had been imagined by a homogeneous group.
Let’s see how this hypothesis holds up, based on the World Economic Forum’s annual study on gender parity among countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Gender parity is measured in terms of the participation of men and women in society and the opportunities available to each gender in terms of access to health, education and employment, among others. The forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 ranks countries in terms of their gender equality performance. Those that have fought the pandemic most effectively and are led by women rank high on the list.
The report also shows those same countries rank high when it comes to having women on corporate boards. It therefore leads us to conclude that more egalitarian societies are better managed.
In those countries, power is enhanced by the complementary nature of two genders contributing. The added value of this complementary factor in business management, for example, has been the subject of several studies. One of them, entitled “Delivering through Diversity,” by American consulting firm McKinsey, suggests that businesses with a more equitable gender balance perform better financially.
Are countries with greater gender parity managed differently? We observe that in these ecosystems, leadership is driven by supposed “feminine qualities” — empathy, compassion, listening and collaboration. These are distinct from the characteristics associated with the exercise of traditional managerial, supervisory and controlling power.
It should be noted, however, that these different gender-based attributes are more reflective of the perceptions, stereotypes and biases that characterise our societies. Women can display supposedly male management traits and vice versa.
Female-type leadership required.
That means gender-balanced environments produce more robust decisions. These environments also represent leadership where female-like values dominate.
The challenges of the 21st century call for a new type of leadership, different from that based on command and control. These challenges include climate change, health, the environment, the depletion of the Earth’s resources, the ageing population and the shortage of talent, the virtual management of production and employee contributions and the development of new technologies.