Is Everything Better When a Woman is the Boss?

Number of infections, deaths, recoveries. The narrative told by pandemic data is unfolding each day, all over the world - giving us both fear and hope. Although it is still early for a global analysis on the coronavirus pandemic, there seems to be a fil rouge, or rather rose, that helps us read these numbers.

In the countries run by women, the COVID-19 pandemic has been handled much better. To verify this statement we just need to read the statistics showing data from around the world, which isn’t a complex operation considering the fact the only 17 out of 196 countries have a female leader. In early April, Germany's Angela Merkel had already done more tests than any other major nations in the world (as a percentage of the population), while in the Republic of Taiwan led by President Tsai Ing-wen the numbers of dead and infected people have always been very low, despite the proximity to China. Countries like Denmark, Noway and Finland have almost been untouched by the coronavirus, as well as Iceland and New Zealand. But why is that?

Is it a coincidence that more effective strategies have been adopted in countries led by a woman?Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, one of the major experts in leadership and gender-based inequalities, has investigated the topic, coming to the conclusion that no, this is not a coincidence. The success of these 7 States actually lies in the fact that they are run by women. So what has made the difference? They have been exercising their power in an alternative way, focusing on four key concepts: truth, decisiveness, technology and love.

It’s not my place to analyse here what Avivah Wittenberg-Cox has already put into words in this enthralling article. But let us use this space for serious reflection. While some denied the danger of coronavirus (like our Boris Johnson or Donald Trump) these women frankly told their citizens that COVID-19 is a serious problem. They did not wait for the number of infections and deaths to rise to take the necessary restrictive measures. They recognised that not everyone reads the press, so they invited influencers of any age to spread fact-based information on managing the pandemic. They used empathy and words of love to talk to their nations.

We are all aware that many factors contribute to determining successes and failures in the fight against coronavirus, but so far I think we can safely say that women appear to be doing a relatively good job. Not that male leaders are incapable, but the approach and the results are different. So all we are left to ask is: why is that?

I’d like to use Tomas Chamorro Premuzic’s words, published on Forbes, to answer this question. He is a business psychologist, Professor of Business Psychology at University College London (UCL) and Columbia University. He said: “We have known for many decades that there are consistent and significant gender differences in health-related behaviors, which overwhelmingly favor women. Compared to men, women are not just at lower risk of COVID-19, but the vast majority of health problems and illnesses, and their lower risk appetite, reckless impulsivity, and higher conscientiousness, explain why women everywhere tend to outlive men, and why they are generally better able to manage their health than men are.” So when it comes to handling a disease: “the traditional approach to facing illnesses (a stoic, seemingly tough or macho attitude conveying a sense of invincibility) is a particular liability in the face of pandemics, especially if you are in charge, and people look to you to for guidance on how to behave.”

So even if the data is for now insufficient to draw solid conclusions about women’s relative ability to guide their countries through a pandemic, there still seems to be a correlation between the gender of a political leader and the ability to handle a health crisis, including a pandemic.


Written by Miriam Tagini
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