Covid-19 pandemic – can women manage the virus better?

After the financial crash in 2008 there were several reports which showed that banks led by women suffered less from the economic crisis. Additionally, countries where there was a higher representation of women in leadership roles also fared better.

Not surprising then that this suggested a more balanced ratio of male/female in leadership roles. Since the crash European governance changes have revealed that female representation on boards has increased from 15% to 33%.

One of the most well-known women, Christine Lagarde (then head of the IMF) was quoted as saying that ‘If Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters, the economic crisis would clearly have looked different.’

With the advent of the coronavirus pandemic the world has seen insufficient data to identify meaningful trends. This has also led to the inability to make any confident predictions about the future, but there are strong facts to support the theory that women could do a better job at handling a pandemic.

Looking at women in leadership roles around the world we see that only 10% of countries are led by women. Certainly, as heads of state women seem to be doing a good job in tackling the virus. In fact, the performance of countries with female heads of state has shown to be positive.

Germany, as an example of female head of state, has tested more people per capita than any other country in the world (15,730 per 1 million people). This may be the reason why they have a low per capita death rate of 28 per 1 million people.

The UK, under a male government carried out 4,155 tests with 105 deaths per 1 million people while France performed 3,436 tests with 167 deaths per 1 million people.

On the other hand, Slovakia, which set in place one of the quickest lockdowns in the world (8 days after the first confirmed case) reported the lowest deaths in Europe at 0.4 per 1 million people.

As well as lightning fast lockdown procedures, Slovakia issued official guidelines regarding the use of gloves and masks. These guidelines included all government officials.

Smaller countries, which have wealthier economies and higher technical knowledge such as Switzerland and Taiwan have also stood out for the way they have handled the pandemic. These countries are led by women.

Even if we agree that countries perform better with female heads of state, there are still some historical differences such as culture and policies, which would influence the performance indicator range.

While gender seems to correlate to performance, there are factors which would cause a reversal of statistics with national performance increasing the likelihood of choosing a female head of state.

In cultures where leadership is regarded as a ‘less masculine’ role there may be more women in charge. It has also been shown that the government is more likely to be empathetic and risk-averse, both of which will reduce the damage done by a virus.

When handling a contagious disease such as the coronavirus people will look to the leader of the country for guidance on how to behave. A macho attitude which conveys a sense of invincibility may not be the example they want to see.

The best method of handling a pandemic may therefore not have anything to do with biological gender (male vs female) but on the psychological orientation of the leaders, namely masculinity vs femininity.

Current data is in truth insufficient to draw any definite conclusions, but quantitative studies have shown that women are better equipped to deal with any health (including pandemics) crisis.

On decision-making aspects women are less reckless in taking risks than their male counterparts.

Taking the coronavirus into account then we see that compared to men, women are at lower risk, they have less health and illness issues, and less reckless impulsivity. This also may explain why women tend to outlive men and why generally they are in better health.

This is not to say that if every country had been governed by women, there would be no coronavirus, or that it could have been prevented. However, the world we live in may be a better place with leaders who are less over-confident and over-achieving, rather quietly confident and supremely competent in their leadership roles.


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