Women Leaders and The Covid-19 Crisis


The success in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic by leaders such as Jacinda Arden (New Zealand), Angela Merkel (Germany) and Tsai Ing-Wen (Taiwan) has been widely covered by the media. These female leaders and their approach to dealing with Covid-19 highlight that being women led gave nations a great advantage when it came to tackling the pandemic. 

In a recent study published by The World Economic Forum and VoxEU, it was concluded that ‘COVID-19 outcomes are systematically and significantly better in countries led by women’. 

In this study, the researchers paired women led countries to countries led by men that had similarities in terms of wealth, population and other characteristics. When compared, nations led by women suffered less cases of Covid-19 overall and less deaths than their male led counterparts. For example, it was found that ‘Norway, which is led by a woman, had 8,257 cases and 233 deaths, while Ireland, led by a man, recorded 24,200 cases and 1,547 deaths.’  Belgium was an outlier as a women led nation that actually fared quite badly in terms of cases of the coronavirus and number of deaths. Overall though it is quite clear from this study that women led nations performed remarkably better ‘suffering half as many deaths on average as those led by men’.

Why is it then that women seemed to handle this crisis much better than men? This study, carried out by academics from the University of Reading and the University of Liverpool, points to two major factors. Women are more risk averse and they have a different leadership style than their male counterparts.

The study highlights that countries led by women locked down much quicker than those led by men. It suggests that this could be because women, even those in leadership, are more adverse to risk and were willing to lock down earlier on. This reduced the number of total cases and therefore deaths considerably. As we have seen many male leaders acted in much riskier ways, such as Donald Trump (USA), Boris Johnson (UK) and  Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil). With the latter referring to Covid-19 as “a little flu or a bit of a cold”. This work also highlights that although women were risk averse in terms of cases and loss of life, they were less risk averse in terms of the economy which again contributed to earlier lockdowns.  

Leadership style was also highlighted by the two researchers as a contributor to the success of women led countries. The authors point out that women ‘adopt a more democratic and participative style and tend to have better communications skills’, and it is these communications skills that are crucial when dealing with a crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ultimately, we can learn a lot about the advantages of women in leadership from the current crisis where ‘being female-led has provided countries with an advantage’. 

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