If Only You Can See How Powerful Women Are Leading Us Out Of The Pandemic

Reading the recent Forbes article, “Do Women Make Better Leaders In A Pandemic? Don’t Trust The Data…….,” I was reminded of my Anthropology 101 professor telling us that “data does not exist.” In other words, out-of-context data points have no meaning. 

Our brains have a fascinating ability to only see what we want to see

I.e., only those truths that support our own story of reality, which has little to do with evidence-based research or “factually supported” data. Furthermore, since we are usually the hero in our story, we keep searching for data that makes us feel secure and certain of what to expect.

All around the world, women-led countries have had a better response to the pandemic

Nancy Doyle, author of the Forbes article, would like us to rethink the arguments that have emerged during this present crisis, praising the way in which women leaders have led their countries’ response to the coronavirus pandemic. Whether presidents or prime ministers, from Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, to others all across the globe, people are linking the success of their country’s response to the virus with the style of their female leader. These women were decisive in their decisions, listened to scientists, brought together experts, relied on technology in innovative ways, and convinced their citizens that their quarantines and sacrifices were the right approach. The result? Their nations’ results were far better than those of male-led ones, be it the US or Brazil or Russia.

Of course, there have been counter-arguments, claiming that these female-led countries have different geopolitical circumstances which explains the success of their response to the virus, rather than the style and credibility of their leadership. (They were able to close their borders more easily than perhaps New York State, for example.) 

If data doesn’t support your beliefs, you just ignore it 

We could debate this endlessly. However, I teach an online course entitled “Your Data Is Talking To You. Can You Hear It?” because people are tone deaf to data that contradicts what they believe to be true. If you want to see national responses to the pandemic as simply a result of borders or boundaries, you are only going to see that which conforms to your beliefs. It really doesn’t matter if the data shows a contradictory pattern. Your world view becomes a paradigm of your reality, influences the illusions you hold dear, and cements what is “real” in your own mind. If women had the benefit of the context in which they were fighting the pandemic, we would be able to see how they managed to create a leadership policy and voice that their people embraced, followed and benefited from. 

Are women better leaders? Yes. By a wide margin. 

Interestingly, recurring studies measuring leadership capabilities show that women continuously rank higher than men on almost all key factors. Research conducted by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman and published in HBR in June 2019 concluded that 84% of women were seen by their managers, even by male managers, to be more effective than men in virtually every area, including IT, operations and legal — areas that are typically the male strongholds of an organization. Women also ranked highly in taking initiative, acting with resilience, practicing self-development, driving for results, and showing high integrity and honesty. 

At SAMC, we conducted similar research and arrived at similar results. Using the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument, a methodology developed at the University of Michigan by Professors Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn to assess an organization’s culture, and surveying a sample of 3000 men and 3000 women, we found that both genders wanted exactly the same types of cultures with similar leadership styles. We initially assumed the men would prefer more rules-driven, competitive, hierarchical cultures, while the women would lean toward collaborative, team-focused, clan ones. Instead, they both wanted what the women favored: a cooperative, team-focused culture with an emphasis on creative, visionary and empowering themes. “We” instead of “me.” 

Perhaps we need to drop the biases that cloud our interpretation of events 

This may be a powerful moment to rethink why some leaders have really gotten the coronavirus under control in their countries, cities or states, regardless of whether they are men or women. Leaders of collaborative cultures with a heavy focus on empowerment, a clear vision for how to manage a crisis, and a genuine commitment to “we’re all in this together” might have been the effective solution exhibited by these female leaders. Men might have done the same, as Governor Andrew Cuomo did in New York. How well leaders lead is probably less about being male or female and more about ensuring that those following them believe that the leader has their shared interests, not personal or political gain, at the heart of what they are trying to accomplish. Time will tell. 

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RethinkI am thrilled to announce the upcoming publication of my new book, Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business in which I share 11 case studies, including my own, of smart, accomplished women who were told they couldn’t be a lawyer, couldn’t start their own business, couldn’t be a geoscientist. Guess what? They did it anyway and became phenomenal successes. Preorder your copy here.

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From Observation to Innovation,


Andi Simon, Ph.D.
Corporate Anthropologist | President
Simon Associates Management Consultants

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