From Germany to New Zealand, women are stepping up to show the world how to manage a messy patch for our human family. Add in Finland, Iceland and Denmark, and this pandemic is revealing that women have what it takes when the heat rises in our Houses of State. Many will say these are small countries, or islands, or other exceptions. But Germany is large and a leading European nation. These leaders are gifting us an attractive alternative way of wielding power. What are they teaching us?

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, stood up early and calmly told her countrymen that this was a serious bug that would infect up to 70% of the population. “It’s serious,” she said, “take it seriously.” She did, so they did too. Testing began right from the get go. Germany jumped right over the phases of denial, anger and disingenuousness we’ve seen elsewhere. The country’s numbers are far below its European neighbours, and there are signs they may be able to start loosening restrictions relatively soon.

CountryLeaderNo. of Deaths
DenmarkMette Frederiksen260
IcelandKatrín Jakobsdóttir8
FinlandSanna Marin49
GermanyAngela Merkel2673
New ZealandJacinda Ardern4
NorwayErna Solberg98
TaiwanTsai Ing-wen6
Data from the European Centre for Disease Control as of April 12, 2020

Among the first and the fastest moves was Tsai Ing-wen’s in Taiwan. Back in January, at the first sign of a new illness, she introduced 124 measures to block the spread, without having to resort to the lockdowns that have become common elsewhere. She is now sending 10 million face masks to the US and Europe. Tsai managed what CNN has called “among the world’s best” responses, keeping the epidemic under control, still reporting only six deaths.

Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand was early to lockdown and crystal clear on the maximum level of alert she was putting the country under – and why. She imposed self-isolation on people entering New Zealand astonishingly early, when there were just 6 cases in the whole country, and banned foreigners entirely from entering soon after. Clarity and decisiveness are saving New Zealand from the storm. As of mid-April they have suffered only four deaths, and where other countries talk of lifting restrictions, Ardern is adding to them, making all returning New Zealanders quarantine in designated locations for 14 days.

Generally, the empathy and care which all of these female leaders have communicated seems to come from an alternate universe than the one we have got used to. It’s like their arms are coming out of their videos to hold you close in a heart-felt and loving embrace. Who knew leaders could sound like this? Now we do.

By Comparison……

Now, compare these leaders and stories with the strongmen using the crisis to accelerate a terrifying trifecta of authoritarianism: blame-“others”, capture-the-judiciary, demonize-the-journalists, and blanket their country in I-will-never-retire darkness (Trump, Bolsonaro, Obrador, Modi, Duterte, Orban, Putin, Netanyahu…).

There have been years of research timidly suggesting that women’s leadership styles might be different and beneficial. Instead, too many political organisations and companies are still working to get women to behave more like men if they want to lead or succeed. Yet these national leaders are case study sightings of the leadership traits men may want to learn from women.

It’s time we recognised it – and elected more of it.

A few non- academic Reflections about men and women in leadership positions……

To start with, the world is changing. Once upon a time, not many years ago, womens’ and mens’ roles tended to be very different, with women being assigned to support roles, stereotypically secretaries, and of course household and maternal duties. Many men on the other hand, were the “breadwinners” performing a range of roles from manual labour to industrial leadership, accountancy and the like.

Things started to change, particularly as a result of the Second World War. Whilst the men went forth to fight, women assumed many roles previously performed by men on the home front. Very interestingly, this included ferrying aircraft for the armed forces, when women pilots performed near-miracles (to men) flying on occasion, a fighter in the morning and a heavy bomber in the afternoon!

Until recently, there has been a strong tendency for boy’s upbringing, education and early lives to be quite rigorously segregated. Stereotypically, girls played with dolls and cuddly toys and boys with guns, model aircraft and competitive pastimes.

Schooling is an interesting field of study, especially when we look art results in UK schools. It appears that girls have tended to outperform boys academically in general. Girls perform better in mixed schools and markedly better in all-girl institutions. Boys do better in all male schools, but not as well as girls in general.

Some insights might be gained when one looks at the pastimes and games played at school. On the old days, in mixed primary schools, boys and girls were segregated in separated playgrounds.

It was noticeable that girls played collaborative games, often in small groups, whilst the atmosphere in boys’ playgrounds tended to be more competitive and often violent- football games were distinctly “rough” and fighting was not uncommon.

Cut to today……

Change is gaining rapid traction. After the men returned from the war, women tended to return to a previous division of labour – but something had changed.

For a start, more women entered the higher education system, and the number of engineers and physicists increased. Women also began to rise in the professions such as law and accountancy. Some even reached the higher echelons of management – but still, a very small proportion have reached the Top.

So let’s look at the education and training systems that underpin the worlds of work, starting with industrial management .In Britain, “management” education tends to be dominated by Accountancy, which can be argued to be a very “masculine” field (focus on the right answer, precision, finding the ill-doers and many Rules) Whilst there is no reason that women cannot excel in this field, it does not seem to be attractive to many. Extending this into the finance industries, it seems that the intensely competitive nature of these activities is extremely “Masculine”.

And indeed, we find a small minority of women in the financial markets and big accountancy companies. Even the “gold standard” Masters in Business Administration still seems to be a rather masculine activity, focusing on finding the “right” answers to puzzles (Case Method beloved of typical top echelon Schools like Harvard and Insead.)

Conversely, women seem to prefer working in the University and academic sectors generally, and also in professions like Human Resources and Management development.

Now this is not an exact treatise , but it probably makes the case that as women rise in industry, the professions and also politics, they tend to bring different perspectives to the classical masculine stereotypes like Donald Trump, who appeal to a more macho constituency.

But what is really interesting is the question “Are Female leaders and the more female styles of addressing complex issues like Climate Change and Pandemics likely to produce more positive results than the “Playground Bully” approach favoured by such as Trump and Bolsanaro??”

◄ Previous article
What many young people think
Section index:
Go to top