Who will lead history in these challenging times?
Only 10% of the countries around the globe have women-led governments. While as women we have progressed to reach leadership positions in businesses, the pandemic poses a serious threat to these improvements. And the reality is that it is in everyone’s interest that women continue to be involved in government and business processes, because women and their leadership have been proven to be successful while facing adversity.
Male leadership has been clearly overtaken in some cases during this global crisis. The world’s superpowers, which have always maintained an aggressive leadership, are currently overwhelmed by this silent enemy whom they cannot shoot at and cannot put in a prison. Countries like the United States, China or England tried to keep their economies as usual, with a policy of moving forward with a steady hand, and failed. Instead, the pandemic has brought success stories of women’s leadership to the front. New Zealand was among the first countries to contain the virus, and it is almost eliminated nowadays. Taiwan leads with massive testing and prevention strategies, and now sends supplies and technology around the world. Germany was able to accurately calculate the ideal infection curve and serves as an example for all European countries. A study conducted by the University of Liverpool and also published in the SSRN electronic library analyzed the performance of Heads of State leadership in the face of the pandemic. Given the small number of countries led by women, the most appropriate way to assess their performance was to compare them with “similar” countries led by men. First, countries with similar GDP per capita, population, population density, and population over 65 years-old were compared. Variables were afterwards added to include: annual health spending per capita, number of tourists entering the country, and gender equality. These comparisons showed very clear differences between female-led and male-led countries during the first quarter of the pandemic:
Hong Kong, led by a woman, recorded 1,056 cases and four deaths, while Singapore, which has a similar economy and comparable demographic characteristics but is led by a man, recorded 28,794 cases and 22 deaths in the same period. Similarly, Norway, headed by a woman, had 8,257 cases and 233 deaths, while Ireland had 24,200 cases and 1,547 deaths. Taiwan recorded 440 cases and seven deaths, while South Korea had 11,078 cases and 263 deaths. The world is understanding the benefits of this type of leadership, one that is empathetic, based on the ability to listen, on reflection, adaptability, and integration of multiple perspectives before making a decision. A leadership that does not need to be imposed to prove itself right. This is the leadership that characterizes women, whether in government, in a company, or even in their family, and it is one that we, as a society, have underestimated for centuries. New studies suggest that men are likely to lead with a “task-oriented” style and women with a “relationship-oriented” style. Therefore, as women we tend to adopt a more democratic and participative style, and tend to have better communication skills. This has been tested during this crisis in the clear and decisive communication styles adopted by several women leaders, whether it is the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, speaking directly to children, or Ardern communicating with her citizens through Facebook.
The so-called “new normal” presents us with great questions for the future. How we respond to the adversity and complexity of the moment will be decisive in building a prosperous and balanced tomorrow.
Being a woman, in many cases, yet remains a disadvantage. There are still many situations where the gender gap is present and the pandemic has aggravated this situation. A new report from McKinsey & Company found that women worldwide are 1.8 times more likely to lose their jobs than men due to the pandemic and its economic effects. Thousands of professional women’s careers have been cut short by the need to care for children and be educators as well. The report noted that women account for 39% of global employment; and have a huge share of jobs that are particularly vulnerable to job loss at this time. Women represent 54% of jobs worldwide in housing and food services, and 43% in retail and wholesale trade — two industries that have been particularly affected in a negative form by the economic cost of the coronavirus. Women’s jobs have 19% more risk than men’s, simply because women are disproportionately represented in sectors that are negatively affected by the Covid-19 crisis. The McKinsey study asserts that women perform 75% of unpaid care work worldwide; this high proportion is associated with a negative impact on women’s participation in the labor force since women often end up assuming the majority of these responsibilities, according to this consultant’s previous research.
The pandemic has exposed the need to include more women in senior leadership positions, but it has also posed a threat at the workplace that could seriously affect the development of women in the professional world. This is a situation that could end up harming society as a whole. Intelligent answers need to be found in order to continue advancing women’s participation in the professional arena. Governments, businesses and organizations must find solutions and implement plans to maintain and retain women’s talent. The new normal is in the process of construction and it is essential to take into account the gender approach, women must continue to be participants in building the future, because the world needs a balance and that is achieved jointly: men and women under the same purpose.