Do women get us through crises better?

What do New Zealand, Iceland, Finland, Taiwan, Denmark and Germany have in common? They have women at the head of their governments, and they have managed the Corona crisis quite well so far. A coincidence? Perhaps not. Numerous articles have addressed the issue. The Handelsblatt, the British The Day, the Kölner Stadtanzeiger, the Handelszeitung, the Morgenpost, the TAZ and many other newspapers have written articles about what the reason may be that the states with female heads of state seem to be getting through the corona crisis much better than states ruled by men.
Woman standing in front of a drawing of muscular upper arms.

Successes in dealing with Corona

The Corona crisis has hit many states hard. Strategies for dealing with it vary widely, and that suggests looking for reasons for success and failure. Many journalists point in the direction of the leadership levels and find thousands of failures there but also strategies for success. Some journalists have now drawn a parallel between the gender of government leaders and how they handle the virus. Several institutes have come out with different rankings assessing the security in different countries, the handling of the virus, the imposition of measures such as curfews, as well as their effectiveness and the management of testing capacities. In almost all of these studies, Taiwan, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Germany and New Zealand are found in the top ranks.

Women at the top

New Zealand was the first country in the world to report reducing the number of infections to zero. Travelers later brought some cases back to New Zealand, but that does not diminish the government's achievement. Germany took a decisive approach from the outset and created an effective strategy that brought rapid results. This will give Germany advantages when the acute danger has passed and the task is to revive the economy. As counterexamples, Brazil, Russia and the USA can be mentioned, where those in power sometimes denied the virus, put their own person in the foreground and did not take the virus seriously enough due to populism. This has resulted in high rates of infection and death. Of course, there are also countries under male leadership that are coping well with the crisis, but it is still remarkable that so many countries under female leadership appear in the top places. It stands to reason that countries with women in positions of power, act in a more controlled and prudent manner than some male-dominated countries.

International prime examples

Jacinda Ardern has already declared a state of emergency in New Zealand, closing the borders and ordering a shutdown when there were only 100 known cases in the country of five million people. Ardern's caution paid off. She focused on transparency in her actions, compassion and caution. She continuously addressed her fellow citizens and tried to explain all measures, thus creating understanding. In Taiwan, the success story is similar. If it were not for China, more governments would probably take a look at Taiwan's approach to success. Tsai Ing-wen's determination and level-headedness were convincing during the crisis. Success has proven her right. As early as January 2020, when most other countries were still hoping the Corona chalice would pass them by like swine flu and SARS, Tsai Ing-wen took action to combat the pandemic. Thanks to her near-perfect and prescient management, Taiwan was able to get through the crisis without a lockdown and with very low rates of both infection and death. Taiwan also spared no expense and promoted early production of 15 million protective masks per day. The head of Iceland's government, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, relied on widespread testing, even of people who had no symptoms and were not suspected of being infected. Iceland used cell phone tracking as early as possible, which was also a success in South Korea. This strategy has also proven to be useful.

How is Germany doing?

Chancellor Merkel wanted to make transparent policy from the start, relying on compassion and reason, but at the same time taking strict measures. While not as early as January 2020, it was just early enough in March, when the situation in Italy and Spain had already gotten so far out of hand that it was almost too late to come up with a good, fast-acting plan. Germany's success proves Angela Merkel right. The death rate compared to other countries is comparatively low. Although the numbers have been rising sharply again since the fall, according to official figures Germany is not yet at its capacity limit, and vaccination is now within sight.

War or no war?

Macron and Trump already announced in March that they are at war. At war against the virus, but just at war. Confrontation, struggle. Typical male posturing? A masculine reaction? Stereotypical thinking. But they do exist: Men who are always looking to fight and only feel comfortable when they have an opponent. Are the supposedly typical female characteristics such as empathy and caution, coupled with transparency and trust, the panacea for successful crisis policy? Determination is essential. Trump has successfully proven this by demonstrating to the entire world what indecisiveness can do. His colleagues around the world seem to have focused on the best available information and then made a level-headed decision. Always knowing that a decision, even if it turns out not to be the best one in the end, is still better than eternal hesitation that has plunged the U.S. into a serious crisis. Trump, along with his Brazilian counterpart, has also proven that downplaying problems is not effective. On this issue, too, many women are ahead of the game. Whether women are the better crisis managers remains to be seen. What can be said, however, is that many female heads of government have delivered a strong performance by leaving egoism, war rhetoric, indecisiveness, blame and power play aside and making caution, prudence, empathy, decisiveness and transparency their premise. Purely feminine qualities? No. These are the qualities of an outstanding leader.
Author: IAPM internal

Keywords: Crisis management, commentary, psychology

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For better readability, we usually only use the generic masculine form in our texts. Nevertheless, the expressions refer to members of all genders.