HomeLearning CenterA Political Lesson the World Is Still Learning

A Political Lesson the World Is Still Learning

Originally published by Mark Sappenfield for The Christian Science Monitor

Pop quiz: How many of the 193 nations worldwide have ever had a woman leader?

Answer: 59, or less than a third.

Among those that have never had a woman leader: France, Spain, Ireland, Russia, China, almost all of Africa (except Liberia, Burundi, Rwanda, Malawi, and Tanzania), and of course, the United States of America.

But one country appears ready to leave the no-woman-leaders list: Mexico. Whitney Eulich’s cover story on this historic shift prompted me to do a little research. 

It is economic gospel that perhaps the most reliable way for a nation to improve its wealth is to empower its women. But what about politics? Is there a similar boost? Are nations that empower women politically better run? Research answers unambiguously: yes.

Take the pandemic. Summarizing several studies, the Harvard Business Review found that countries and U.S. states led by women had lower rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths. So HBR did a leadership study of its own (in business) and found that “women were rated significantly more positively than men.”

For example, women were rated higher in taking initiative, learning agility, and developing others. In all, women scored higher in 13 of 19 leadership competencies; men scored higher in one. The rest were statistically even.  

Perhaps not surprisingly, the political benefit of women leaders is significantly correlated with the economic benefit. Namely, women leaders are more likely to address discrimination and inequality. 

The World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law Index gauges how well a nation protects the rights of all its citizens. Nations with women leaders score on average 10 points higher on the WBL Index than others, according to a study by the Oliver Wyman Forum. That difference is even more pronounced – 17 points – when more than half of government ministers are women. The World Economic
Forum estimates that full female participation in the global economy “would increase global GDP by an estimated 20%.”

Yet that might not be the most interesting part, at least for the U.S. America is facing a challenge perhaps unique in world history. We know democracies generally work best in small, homogeneous societies. Never has a democracy at once been so wealthy, so free, so large, and so diverse. It is a political experiment. Can such a democracy cohere?

Another HBR study looked at this with “striking” results. “Female leaders [of diverse nations] were significantly more likely than male leaders to have fast-growing economies.” And it wasn’t close: Countries led by women grew 5.4% in the subsequent year; countries led by men grew 1.1%.

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