Will the Pandemic Reshape Notions of Female Leadership?

Image Credit: Cottonbro / Pexels

You may have already heard stories of countries with women in leadership which have suffered six times fewer confirmed deaths from Covid-19 than countries with governments led by men. A recent article published by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Avivah Wittenberg-Cox for Harvard Business Review explores the influence that this may cause future female leadership. 

Of course, there is no concrete affirmation that gender is the only factor that lead to success in these women-lead nations. There are many factors involved including differences in culture, population sizes, the small number of female leaders in comparison, and and selection bias based on the idea that women need to work harder. Although there is currently insufficient data to legitimately examine gender effects, one thing is certain: those in charge will be judged on how they manage this crisis — and in this competition, few comments have received more attention than the stellar performance of female leaders.

An avalanche of articles have highlighted the female-led countries managing the crisis better. It is claimed their superior performance reflects well-established gender differences in leadership potential. We are aware of the (many) nuances and limitations of the data under debate, however many people have (very) strong opinions about whether women are managing the pandemic better. Regardless of how robust the evidence might be, or how logical and data-driven the arguments, add to the mix a change in receptivity of the zeitgeist. A small number of female leaders have emerged as a benchmark for what competent leadership looks like — and been applauded for it.

Could this be the moment, then, to replace our old, obsolete leadership archetypes with more pragmatic and meritocratic models? Tales of strong female leaders succeeding through this crisis could lead to a change in the overarching narrative of what a strong leader looks like. Society at large may become less surprised and more accepting of leaders (s)elected on their expertise, intelligence, curiosity, humility, empathy, and integrity. Though only time will tell if this new narrative survives the crisis, we hope it will. It would not just elevate the overall quality of our leaders — it would likely increase our trust in the result of our choices.

To read the full article for Harvard Business Review  by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, click here.

Return to list