Men could learn a thing or two from women, study finds
Jair Bolsonaro reckons he has mold in his lungs. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, meanwhile, seem to have mold in their brains. Brazil, the US, and the UK have some of the highest death tolls in the world from Covid-19 thanks, in part, to their inept leadership.
While the world’s supposed strongmen have done a pitiful job at handling the pandemic, strong women like New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern and Germany’s Angela Merkel have won praise for their handling of the virus. A new study published by the World Economic Forum now confirms what many have suspected: “Being female-led has provided countries with an advantage in the current crisis.”
Because just 19 countries in the world are led by women, it’s hard to draw meaningful conclusions about leadership efficacy just by looking at overall Covid-19 cases and deaths. Instead economists from the University of Liverpool and the University of Reading “matched” female-led countries with their closest neighbour based on socio-demographic and economic characteristics considered important in the transmission of coronavirus. Germany, for example, was matched with the UK; New Zealand with Ireland. Bangladesh, which has a female prime minister, was compared with Pakistan. Serbia, which has a female and openly gay prime minister, was compared with Israel.
“Nearest neighbour analysis clearly confirms that when women-led countries are compared to countries similar to them along a range of characteristics, they have performed better, experiencing fewer cases as well as fewer deaths,” the study’s authors declared. “This is true whether we consider the nearest neighbour … or even five neighbours.”
A key factor in a country’s coronavirus outcomes, according to this study, was the timing of lockdown; “female-led countries locked down significantly earlier, ie when they were seeing fewer deaths (22 fewer) than male-led countries”.
Why did female-led countries lock down earlier? The researchers suggest one explanation might be the fact that women are taught to be more risk-averse than men. At the start of the pandemic a number of male leaders seem to have thought it was macho to act like coronavirus was no big deal. Trump shunned masks and downplayed the severity of the virus. In the UK, Johnson boasted about shaking hands with coronavirus patients in a hospital before he himself was hospitalized for Covid-19. And Bolsonaro famously dismissed Covid-19 “as a little flu” – now his wife has tested positive for it and he’s complaining about moldy lungs.
Another reason female-led countries have had a better response to the pandemic, the study suggests, is differences in male and female styles of leadership. Women are taught to adopt a more “more democratic and participative style” than men.
It’s important to stress, I think, that the big takeaway from this study isn’t that the world would be a lot better off if it was run by women – there are plenty of awful female leaders out there. Rather, the big takeaway is that the world would be better off if more leaders exhibited what we have been trained to think of as “female behaviour”. For decades women have been taught that if we want to get ahead we should “lean in” to male power structures. We should be more assertive and more competitive. We should speak louder, self-promote more, and never ever say sorry. We have been taught that if we want to get ahead we should act like men. Perhaps it’s time we stop doing that and, instead, start telling men that they’ll be more successful if they act like women.