A lot has been said about how women leaders have done a better job leading from the front during the COVID-19 pandemic than men. Countries with women Heads of State such as New Zealand, Germany, Finland, and Taiwan have been comparatively successful in beating back the deadly virus, opening up arenas for re-examining dominant value systems across the globe.
An analysis rated women as more effective in making decisions during tough times than their male counterparts. The assessment indicated a wider gap between men and women in the pandemic than before, indicating that women tend to perform better in such circumstances. In fact, women were rated higher on 13 of the 19 competencies that comprise overall leadership effectiveness.
One study found that numbers related to COVID-19, including cases and deaths, were systematically better in women-led countries. Likewise, states in the US with female governors had lower fatality rates. This was attributed to women exhibiting empathy, compassion, and an ability to show support — skills that are important in handling difficult situations – more than men.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been widely praised for her clear, bold, and supportive approach to flattening the curve. The results of her clear communication, which resulted in only 20 deaths in a country of nearly 5 million people, speak for themselves. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for an established unity in the nation’s response to the virus. Taiwan and Norway’s national responses to this crisis have also proved to be effective to date.
Experts believe one of the reasons behind the phenomenon is how men are likely to lead in a ‘task-oriented’ style and women in an ‘interpersonally-oriented’ style. This leads women to adopt a more democratic and participative style and end up having better communication skills. This has been showcased during the pandemic in the decisive and clear communication styles adopted by several female leaders, whether it be Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg speaking directly to children or Ardern checking in with her citizens through Facebook lives. Overall, women leaders adopt a relational style when leading through a crisis, which is highly effective as they focus on building trust, alleviating fears, and managing the task at hand.
These findings extend beyond crisis situations and into the everyday modern workplace as well. Research has consistently found that women tend to adopt a more transformational leadership style, which includes demonstrating compassion, care, concern, respect, and equality. In contrast, men have a more transactional approach, which includes a more task-focused, achievement-oriented, and directive style of management.
Despite all talk, women are put in fewer leadership positions, and their extended roles tend to be riskier. This phenomenon is known as the ‘glass cliff.’ One of the reasons for this is that such roles are considered a better fit for women, even though the chances of failure are higher, as it comes with an underlying assumption that women can manage challenging situations better. In other words, women are used to not being set up for success and having to make the best of whatever is handed out to them. Because women have less access to leadership opportunities, these risky leadership roles are hard to turn down. Meanwhile, better leadership opportunities land in the kitty of men — something researchers refer to as the ‘glass cushion.’
While it has been proven time and again that women leaders may be highly effective during a crisis, workplaces shouldn’t wait until they are failing to invite women to lead. Giving them more and more leadership positions is likely to prevent failure from happening in the first place. With the ‘glass ceiling’ being shattered in many places, it is time now for the ‘glass cliff’ to take a backseat.
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