Not long ago, women were judged and criticised when entering the political scene, often met with scepticism and unjustified prejudice. What the pandemic has systematically proven, however, is that female leadership has produced not only fruitful results, but also hope for a bright future for leadership.
Leadership In Times of Covid-19
Undoubtedly, most readers have frequently come across evaluations of their government’s effort to handle the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Analyses and opinions have been circulating on the internet for some months now, but all opinion pieces share one common feature: they stress the importance of one critical factor in the successful fight against the pandemic: women in leadership.
Not long ago, and still to this day in most world nations, the presence of females in leadership positions was considered an outlier in a massively male-dominated scene. Women were judged and criticised when entering the political scene, often met with scepticism and unjustified prejudice. What the pandemic has systematically proven, however, is that female leadership has produced not only fruitful results, but also hope for a bright future for leadership.
The Success of Female Leadership
By now, everyone has stumbled across one of the names of the female leaders that made a difference in controlling the spread of COVID in the past few months: from the well-known and internationally acclaimed Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand to the newly appointed Sanna Marin of Finland and the firm and decisive Angela Merkel of Germany.
Despite their leader’s skills, experience and time in office, many still wonder why and how female-led nations performed significantly better than the rest of the world. This doesn’t imply that there weren’t male-led nations that performed equally well. It simply points out the fact that a new era in politics has begun, during which women no longer remain unnoticed on the side-lines.
Make no mistake: this is not just theoretical talk fuelled by a sentimental approach to the issue. This is supported by facts and statistical evidence. On Monday, Jacinda Ardern declared that New Zealand had successfully met the ambitious goal of eradicating the virus, rather than simply controlling its spread, and was now ready to bring an end to the lockdown that has been in place since March 25. Germany has had a far lower death rate than Britain, France, Italy or Spain, despite having experienced some domestic unrest following the extension of the lockdown. Finland, governed by a coalition of four female-led parties, has had fewer than 10% as many deaths as neighbouring Sweden, and Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen’s strategy has been internationally recognised as the one of the most effective and successful in containing the virus.
Diversity And Inclusivity
Though conclusions shouldn’t be drawn hastily, these insights offer valuable lessons about crisis management and the future of leadership. Because, the most important conclusion that can be drawn from female-led countries such as New Zealand, Finland, Norway, Ethiopia and Taiwan is that the presence of women in leadership positions reflects the openness and inclusivity of a nation with regards to gender representation and equality of opportunities. When representatives with expertise, diverse backgrounds and multiple viewpoints come together, decision making becomes significantly more effective.
In fact, diversity and inclusivity are a distinguished feature of these nations. In Germany, Ms. Merkel’s government considered a variety of different information sources when planning its strategy to halt the spread of the virus, such as but not limited to epidemiological models, data from medical providers and evidence from South Korea’s effective “testing and isolation” program. And all this led to Germany having a significantly lower death rate compared to neighbouring European countries.
New Female Leadership vs Unsuccessful Strong Males
The very turbulent past few months have also brought to the surface another realization, one which hasn’t gained the same ground as the former. It is that seemingly aggressive, decisive and strong leaders may not make successful and effective political decisions. Power and strength in the political arena don’t generally lead to sound leadership decisions.
A clear example would be the case of the United States. Mr. Trump has refused time and again to wear a mask publicly, even though the US is currently the leading country in failing to contain the spread of the virus. His stance reflects his unwillingness to portray the US as loser in the competition with China. Alongside hindering efforts to manage the pandemic, this behaviour conveys the underlying message that power and strength are key to good leadership. In turn, this signals that leaders should be aggressive and domineering, which makes it difficult for females to be perceived as strong candidates.
Yet the Ardern model shatters this norm. Her early action was determined, carefully planned, detailed and well-coordinated, and her approach to the crisis was defined by an openness and progressiveness which are necessary in a modern and globalized world. After the nation began its lockdown in March, she addressed the nation in a casual Facebook live session from her phone after putting her toddler to sleep. She empathised with New Zealanders, but what was important was that this empathy was reciprocal. Without anthropomorphising the virus or portraying it as an enemy that has invaded national borders and is currently threatening national pride more than national health, she quietly yet firmly contained its spread.
This is not to suggest that male leaders can’t, and haven’t in the past, overcome gendered expectations and prejudices. But when it comes to female leaders, the attitude in favour of aggression, determination and strictness is beginning to evaporate.
The Tide is Changing
This style of leadership during extremely challenging times teaches us more lessons than one can realize. It shows how some societies have already began to follow a path of gradual change, while others are just beginning to embark on this journey. It tells us that previous leadership models may now be outdated, paving the way for a new era in decision making. At the end of the day, it tells us that expectations of what good leadership is looks like have already begun to change, initiating an era of risk averse, thoughtful and caring leaders.