The Science Behind Women Leaders’ Success In Fighting Covid-19

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dpatop - German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) shakes hands with New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a joint press conference following their meeting at the Federal Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, 17 April 2018. Photo: Kay Nietfeld/dpa (Photo by Kay Nietfeld/picture alliance via Getty Images) PICTURE ALLIANCE VIA GETTY IMAGES

They have been observed, scrutinized, and then applauded. Women leaders around the world have had considerably more success in slowing the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and its general outcomes, and two economists based in the United Kingdom can now explain why.

According to a recent study, these success stories have to do with leadership styles that are in general associated with women leaders, and the study offers an insight into why women policy-makers can make better decisions in certain types of situations.

Slowing the spread

June 8 was an important day for New Zealand, as the prime minister of the country, Jacinda Ardern, was able to officially declare the country “Covid free.” It was one of the first countries in the world to do so, after the prime minister took the drastic step of shutting down the country entirely. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, when its European neighbors were struggling to contain the crisis, was successful in slowing the spread of the virus, and was able to reopen the country’s economy earlier than other European countries.

Only 19 countries around the world are currently led by women, and throughout the first few months of the pandemic, most of them had in common a relative success in fighting the virus. From Bangladesh to Norway to Iceland, a study reveals that some characteristics that are typical to women in leadership positions were instrumental in the success of these countries: “it required big thinking, empathy, and good communication skills,” Dr. Uma Kambhampati, Professor of Economics at the University of Reading and co-author of the study, told Forbes.

After seeing memes trending on social media of successful leaders dealing with Covid-19 being women, Dr. Kambhampati and her colleague, Supriya Garikipati, Associate Professor in Development Economics at the University of Liverpool, decided to look at whether this statement was accurate or not.

To do so, they matched each women-led country with another “neighbor” country led by male, that is similar in terms of population, age, GDP per capita, health expenditure etc. For example, New Zealand was paired with Ireland and Germany with the United Kingdom. The results were clear, even when they tried dropping countries with outstanding results (good and bad) and matching with other countries. “What we were surprised is how systematic and robust it was,” Dr. Kambhampati said. For example, they tried looking at the data without New Zealand, Germany, and the United States, and the results still overwhelmingly said that women leaders were doing better.

Leadership style

The initial hypothesis of the study was that in general, women tend to be more risk-averse when it comes to decision-making. However, in the case of the Covid-19 pandemic, they found that women were risk-averse when it came to human lives, and as such closed their country earlier than their male counterpart, when they were seeing fewer deaths, but were more risk-averse when it comes to risking the economy.

For Dr. Garikipati, there is a lot we can learn from the result of the study. “Women have been asked to be more like men to be successful, but perhaps it’s time to ask men to abide by more female traits such as empathy and clear communication,” she told Forbes.

“I’m sure that in some cases male leader may be better at tackling some issues, but in others, they’re not. This study is a call for diversity, for leaders of different types with different approaches for different circumstances,” Dr. Kambhampati said.

Changing data

As the study looked at the early days of the pandemic, some countries that they looked at are not doing as well as they did in March, April or May. For example, Bolivia, Belgium and Bangladesh are higher up on the list of deaths per capita, and the numbers are rising. Despite the changing data, the researchers say their research is still relevant and probably accurate. According to Dr. Kambhampati, the countries that are “leading” in terms of deaths per capita, “still remain very alpha-male-led countries – the United States, United Kingdoms, India, Russia and Brazil.

The two researchers would now like to take this research one step further, and look at whether the risks women leaders took when it comes to the economy had a negative impact or not in the long run.

Forbes

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