Are women better leaders?

There’s been a lot of talk in recent months about leadership during a pandemic – or crisis of any kind.

Articles and their authors suggest that women’s leadership styles are “better”. Are they? Or are their leadership styles different and, in their differences, are their styles better-suited to our leadership needs today?

In an unprecedented period of uncertainty, commentators are praising the “empathy and care” of female leaders. “It’s like their arms are coming out of their videos to hold you close in a heart-felt and loving embrace,” Avivah Wittenberg-Cox of Forbes said.

But we should be wary of accepting a superficially appealing argument that women leaders are better because they are “empathetic.” It may make more sense to note that people who are fearful for their lives want leadership that comforts and guides – qualities for which women are better known than their male counterparts.

Multiple stories have been written about women leading in countries around the globe where their governance is credited with reducing both panic and the incidence of the coronavirus.

Is their relative success because they are women? It’s hard to draw conclusions from general research, because the kind of person who becomes a senior politician is, by definition, unusual. He or she needs talent, ambition, drive—and favorable life circumstances. In countries that are unused to female leadership, any woman who succeeds is likely to be exceptionally tough and determined to rise up the ranks.

Earlier this month, we posted an article from Swaay that outlined characteristics commonly ascribed to women. They include authenticity, deliberateness, decisiveness, communicativeness, humility, and empathy.

Women are also more risk averse than men. In times of crisis, this tendency toward caution can pay off in big ways. Being cautious rather than impulsive, taking into consideration, and contemplating and responding to critical feedback seem like very positive qualities for leaders to have.

We can see how those same characteristics can help leaders in business, male and female alike, to lead effectively in crisis. Even though government and business goals may differ, some principles are universal. Men tend to be more targeted in their approach to solving an issue, while women view challenges in an interconnected way. This interconnected approach seems particularly important as we manage the impact of COVID-19 and the recalibration of the way we live.
Barbara Rackes is President of SC Women in Leadership and one of its Founders.

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