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Why nations led by women trump their male ego counterparts in COVID-19 management

Industry Contributor

Sally Kissane, Managing Director
Ogilvy Sydney

1 July 2020 2min read

Nicholas Kristof penned the following opinion piece in the NY Times

“What the pandemic reveals about the male ego, why are the rates of Coronavirus deaths far lower in many female-led countries?”

He analysed the death rate from Coronavirus for 21 countries around the world; 13 of these countries were led by men and eight by women. The male-led countries suffered an average of 214 coronavirus-related deaths per million inhabitants. Those led by women lost only one-fifth as many (36 per million). He proposes that if the US had the death rate of a country with a female leader 102,000 lives would have been saved from the already 114,000 lives that have been lost.

In a nutshell:

  • Countries with female leaders have weathered the storm better than most.
  • This says a lot about their leadership style but also about the kind of countries that choose a female leader
  • Leaders that led best, humbly consulted the experts, versus leaders that were sceptical of the experts, professing to know better
  • It’s not that the leaders who best managed the virus were all women. But those who bungled the response were all men, and mostly a particular type: authoritarian, vainglorious and blustering.

My Takeout

There is proof that female leaders have performed better than their male counterparts in getting their countries through crisis, yet in Australia continues lag in female representation in C-Suites.

There is strong evidence to suggest that in times of crisis, where the play book is unknown, women perform better simply because they don’t assume to know the answer.  They choose to consult with the experts to form the best answer and lead through consultation. 

For me, leadership during COVID has been about listening; to the experts, to my peers, to my boss, and most importantly to our people.  Having vulnerability is critical to ensuring you are weighing up all the variables, how can any of us know the answers? But being clear, consistent and constant in your communication is key to ensuring everyone is aligned to what can be a very a changeable situation.

But here we are in 2020, and Australia is still falling behind in terms of female leaders.

The Chief Executive Women (CEW) ASX200 Senior Executive Census 2019 shows just 12 of Australia's top listed companies have a woman chief executive, a drop from 14 last year. 

The number of women running top ASX-listed companies has gone backwards (yes backwards) as all but two of the 25 newly minted chief executive positions went to men in the past year.

As our “new normal” becomes anything but, we need to embrace leaders that can navigate the unknown and lead our country and business through what will no doubt be one of the most difficult periods in our history.

I know we like to think of ourselves as a progressive country, yet somehow Australia is falling behind.  C’mon Australia, surely we can do better than this?

Let’s go. What do you think?

Industry Contributor

Sally Kissane, Managing Director
Ogilvy Sydney