Article authored by Shaili Jhaveri, Vice-president of The Economics Society of ISME.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced upon a complete shift in social, economic, and political gears for the entire world. Since the beginning of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there have been a lot of conversations about female national leaders and their effectiveness in handling the ongoing health crisis. The two main questions being widely discussed – are women better leaders than men? and are women better at crisis management than men? Germany, Taiwan, New Zealand, Iceland, Hong Kong, Finland, Norway and Denmark have shown much lower mortality rates than other countries. The one thing common amongst these countries is that they have a female leader. It would be easy to reach the conclusion that women make better leaders than men. However, that would be an overly simplistic verdict, and it’s actually more complicated than that.
There are many limitations when trying to research this topic. (1) Only 10% of 194 countries are female-led, making it difficult to make comparisons or draw parallels. (2) The quality of data currently available is limited. Inadequate testing means that case numbers and mortality rates are probably underestimated. (3) Many other factors that influence the impact of the virus on a particular country.
When these countries are compared to other countries with similar economies and comparable demographics, it suggests that women have shown more progress. Until June 2020, Hong Kong, which is led by Carrie Lam, recorded 1,056 cases and four deaths while Singapore, recorded 28,794 cases and 22 deaths in the same period. Similarly, Norway, led by Erna Solberg, had 8,257 cases and 233 deaths while Ireland, led by Leo Varadkar until 27/06/2020 when Micheál Martin was elected, recorded 24,200 cases and 1,547 deaths. Taiwan recorded 440 cases and seven deaths while South Korea had 11,078 cases and 263 deaths. What have the women done right that the men have not?
Most countries resorted to lockdowns in various degrees, at various times, accompanied by various government interventions in terms of financial aid. In general, the earlier the lockdown was imposed, the more successful the limitation of viral transmission was. It has been observed that women in leadership had less hesitation in opting in for a complete lockdown compared to male leaders. Women and Men have different leadership styles. Men are likely to lead in a task-oriented style and women in a people-oriented manner. Therefore, women tend to adopt a more democratic and participative style and tend to have better communications skills. Which causes these women to involve more people in their decision-making process including medical experts, economic advisers, etc. which leads to a more holistic and considerate decision.
Toni Schofield & Susan Goodwin’s research on Gender Politics and Public Policy Making shows that men and women have different policy-making approaches. Comparisons are drawn to the attitudes of a strict parent (men) and a nurturing parent (women). While both of these attitudes are present and necessary in every modern society, I believe that in the current situation the latter might have been more successful. It can be theorised that the goals of the women were weighted towards saving lives while men considered the state of the economy and infection rates. This worked well for the women in the past 5 months as seen with the low numbers of deaths and cases in woman-led nations. However, as per (medicalfuturist.com) the second wave of the virus has started hitting various countries. In this situation the female-led countries may not be able to go into another lockdown due to the chances of an economic crisis while the male-led countries will be able to function like they have till now.
Another question arises when thinking about female-led countries doing better than male-led ones. What if countries led by women are managing the pandemic more effectively not because they are led by women, but because the election of women is a reflection of societies where there is a greater presence of women in positions of power across the country? 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.
The World Economic 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 this list. These 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. Furthermore, American consulting firm McKinsey’s report titled Delivering through Diversity suggests that businesses with a more equitable gender balance perform better financially.
In conclusion, nations led by women have shown better performance against the pandemic due to the female characteristics of their leadership being more nurturing, empathetic, decisive, and open to suggestions. However, this could lead to a long-term problem due to their one-sided view. More importantly, it is the more equal and gender-neutral countries making progress that has led to the overall betterment of society.