Research Shows Countries With Female Leaders Have Far Fewer COVID Deaths
A new study has revealed countries with male leaders who have prioritised the economy in their COVID-19 response have seen many more deaths from the virus than countries with female leaders who have focused on public health.
The analysis was published on the preprint server medRxiv, and looked at outbreaks in 35 countries. Of those nations, 10 were led by women, and the study found they were much quicker in flattening the curve of the virus.
The research shows countries with female leaders had six-times fewer deaths compared to those with male leadership. When analysing the data per capita, nations led by women had 1.6-times fewer deaths.
“When we explore the different policy approaches adopted as well as the underlying socio-economic factors, we note an interesting set of correlations: countries led by women leaders have fared significantly better than those led by men on a wide range of dimensions concerning the global health crisis,” said the authors of the study.
“Results show that countries governed by female leaders experienced much fewer COVID-19 deaths per capita and were more effective and rapid at flattening the epidemic’s curve, with lower peaks in daily deaths.”
In their report, the authors argue there are “both contingent and structural reasons that may explain these stark differences”.
“First of all, most women-led governments were more prompt at introducing restrictive measures in the initial phase of the epidemic, prioritising public health over economic concerns, and more successful at eliciting collaboration from the population,” they said.
“Secondly, most countries led by women are also those with a stronger focus on social equality, human needs and generosity. These societies are more receptive to political agendas that place social and environmental wellbeing at the core of national policymaking.”
The study highlighted countries that have received global praise for the handling of the pandemic such as New Zealand, Germany, Taiwan, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Denmark.
So what qualities do the leaders of these countries possess which have thus far set them apart in their handling of the pandemic? Vanessa Pigrum, CEO of Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership, says leaders need to inspire trust to be effective, especially in times of crisis. In addition to quick and decisive action that has saved lives, these women have been empathetic, innovative and clear in their communication.
“These women have, like all leaders, had to make difficult decisions quickly, in an unprecedented and rapidly changing situation,” says Pigrum. “These decisions have had enormous consequences. They’ve slowed the spread of the virus and saved lives, but in doing so have economically impacted millions of people. Acknowledging these hardships with emotional courage, communicating with clarity and empathy, and calmly engaging in an authentic way with their constituents engenders public confidence.”
While an ability to maintain integrity throughout turmoil is certainly not unique to female leadership, Pigrum suggests how these female leaders got to be where they are may have affected their leadership style. “The traits of ethical leadership are the same regardless of gender or age, but the expression of those traits might be affected by whether those leaders followed a traditional path to authority,” she says.
“For the current leaders of these countries following a less conventional political path may have required them to develop their leadership skills in a different way to their male counterparts. Quite a few of these leaders are also drawn from a younger generation, which has quite different expectations of the world than their predecessors. They may feel less constrained by established traditions or practices. Like many other millennials in the workforce today, they are unafraid to question and demand something more from their roles.”
Pigrum believes the success of these countries’ response to the pandemic highlights the benefits of diversity. “We need leaders drawn from a wider field than has traditionally been the case, to bring with them a new perspective and fresh approach to persistent issues, and brand-new challenges,” she says. “The pandemic has swept away many assumptions about entrenched systems and challenged accepted thinking in a range of spheres. It’s also shown us that what people need in a crisis can be met by a range of leadership styles which offer more than we’ve been offered to date.”