It shouldn’t take a pandemic to hammer home the necessity of female leadership.
Anyone who questions whether women can be great leaders should just look at the handling of the coronavirus crisis in women-led countries.
From New Zealand and Iceland to Taiwan, Germany, Finland and Denmark – the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted what women already know: We have what it takes to manage anything from a poopy diaper to what will likely be remembered as our generation’s greatest s**tstorm.
In reading about why New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s coronavirus response was so successful, many articles cited her communication skills, which aligned with Jacqueline and Milton Mayfield’s research into effective leadership communication.
The Mayfields say there are three key things leaders must do to motivate their followers to do their best: “direction-giving,” “meaning-making” and “empathy.”
“Ardern’s response to COVID-19 uses all three approaches,” wrote Suze Wilson, a senior lecturer at Massey University in an article published “The Conversation” website.
“In directing New Zealanders to ‘stay home to save lives,’ she simultaneously offers meaning and purpose to what we are being asked to do,” Wilson wrote. “In freely acknowledging the challenges we face in staying home – from disrupted family and work lives, to people unable to attend loved ones’ funerals – she shows empathy about what is being asked of us.”
Contrast that to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fear-mongering tactics in which he scared Israelis with scenes from the Middle Ages, warning that if people did not listen, some 20,000 citizens would die; that Israel would run out of ventilators and that our doctors would be forced – like their Italian counterparts – to choose who would live and who would die.
At first the tactic worked, however, it quickly became clear to the public that Netanyahu was not a partner in the public’s battle against the virus but rather was using the pandemic to make a “power grab unprecedented in Israeli history,” as journalist Noga Tarnopolsky wrote on The Daily Beast website.
Ardern fostered solidarity and a sense of mission. Netanyahu further divided the country and left many people hopeless.
Culture often first dictates to girls a set of gender-biased rules: “Nice girls don’t get angry,” “good girls do the right thing and sit quietly,” “nice girls do what they are told.”
Simultaneously, they are giving the contradictory message that “women can rise to the top,” they just need to behave like the men who are already up there.
IN AN INTERVIEW with National Geographic, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg described how when she entered the workforce in 1991, there were just as many women as men going into entry-level jobs.
“I looked to the side of me, and it was equal,” she told the Magazine. “But I looked above me, and it was almost entirely men.... We have not made progress in getting a greater share of the top jobs, in any industry, in the past decade.”
The coronavirus crisis has shown that this situation has to change, by underscoring the obvious: that women can do everything men can do – but to do it, they not only do not need to be men, they must be women.
I am raising five daughters and to counter the messages I fear they will be fed, I repeat the same mantras my mother told me: “Anything men can do, women can do better,” “if you want something done, give it to a woman” and “you can want a man, but never need one.”
And I have added one of my own: “Women are beautiful – on the inside and out.”
Beauty is an emotion. It’s how you treat your family and friends. It’s how you see the work you do – a passion versus a chore, an art and a science.
And beauty is also red nail polish and a big smile.
On tough days, I wear bright colors to make the world more fun. On days I need to make decisions, I put on a blazer. And when I am feeling small, I buy a new pair of heels.
This is also something that only a woman can do.
When women tap into their unique gifts, our companies and our countries are more successful.
Businesses with the most females had on average 42% greater return on sales, 53% better return on equity and 66% greater return on invested capital, according to a report by Catalyst that was quoted in Forbes.
Various other studies show that female CEOs are more effective at developing innovative mentoring programs, building bridges, inspiring leadership and motivating employees.
That’s because, as a writer for Harvard Business Review pointed out, “Men are generally more self-focused than women, they are more likely to lead in a narcissistic and selfish way.”
Women tend to put their people ahead of themselves, to better coach their underlings and view the success of their mentees as their own, according to the Review.
“Throughout history, we have told women that they are too kind and caring to be leaders, but the notion that someone who is not kind and caring can lead effectively is at odds with reality,” the Review noted.
People crave validation, appreciation, empathy; gifts we learn to give as mothers.
International Women’s Day is meant to celebrate women and their achievements. It’s good to applaud ourselves. We’ve come really far.
But real success will be the day we no longer need International Women’s Day, because women are honored every day.
The writer is senior coronavirus analyst and head of Strategy for the Jerusalem Post Group.