Women Lead Better in COVID: 5 Reasons Why

The question is being asked all over the internet: why, oh why, are we following men?

For the sake of humanity, the only sensible thing to do right now seems to be to turn off the toxic male leaders, like literally stop broadcasting the President’s updates, and turn on the women leaders of the world who can get us through this crisis.

women lead better
The Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern, 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand. (Photo Credit: Wellington Government, 2018)

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to pivot away from men’s leadership, especially here in the U.S. They are entrenched at the top, and seem to become more teflon as they ascend to higher levels of authority.

Why are women better leaders for this moment in human history? Let me count the layers of experience that result in women being the better leaders during COVID or any health crisis:

1. Women Think More Preventatively.

Women lead better when it comes to thinking preventatively about public health. When Prime Minister Jacina Ardern heard about the dangers of the COVID virus, she shut down the border of New Zealand, and on March 23, she started a four-week lockdown. The country then conducted widespread testing of over 50,000 citizens and has since had only 9 deaths.

2. Women Communicate Health Directives Better.

It seems that women have a much more headstrong approach to certain kinds of decisions, and those related to the health of their citizens turn them into very bossy overlords in a good way. Gina Raimondo in Rhode Island coined “Knock it Off!” to get the people of Rhode Island to pay attention and stop getting together in large groups as if it didn’t have huge health ramifications. Those kinds of messages matter because they help more people get serious about stopping certain harmful behaviors.

3. Women are Decisive and Trusted When it Comes to Health.

Women leaders appear to be very decisive about what to do to combat COVID, and the public in many countries appears to accept women’s leadership in this area readily, especially in countries where there is already adequate trust in government as a protector and service provider for the people. In Germany, which has done a very good job of containing COVID, this seems to particularly be the case, since people accept the idea that their leader, Angela Merkel, has their best interests in mind when doing extra careful contact tracing and adequate amounts of testing.

4. Women Lead Better for Vulnerable Populations.

While there are certainly exceptions to this rule, the rule still stands: when a health crisis comes up, women appear to be more likely to think strategically about who they need to help through the crisis. Women leaders doing well in COVID are concerned about inclusivity of vulnerable populations. They see the value of including the health of everyone when making decisions for their countries, especially during the COVID pandemic, which is very much about who is vulnerable. Those with multiple vulnerabilities are being hit harder.

5. Women Leaders Do Groundwork to Benefit Others.

Women leaders are doing the groundwork of research to benefit others. Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland, conducted large-scale, randomized testing of COVID that found that half of all people who test positive are asymptomatic. This research is now informing the rest of the world as we struggle to contain the virus.

These are just five ways that women are leading the world more effectively through the COVID crisis. There are probably many more to be delineated by closely studying the effective leadership of women during this time. Now, if only there were some way to promote these effective leadership strategies in countries that are not doing nearly as well.

This is one reason why gender lens giving to increase women’s political leadership is so important now, and going forward. Donors need to remember the lessons learned during the COVID pandemic about the dangers of undervaluing women’s leadership.


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Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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