No to Patriarchy: How Two Researchers Shed Light On Women's Leadership During the COVID-19 Crisis
Mon, April 19, 2021

No to Patriarchy: How Two Researchers Shed Light On Women's Leadership During the COVID-19 Crisis



Kamala Harris, a US vice president of the US, was lambasted for being too angry, too competitive, and too confident, said Christopher von Rueden of news and analysis website The Conversation. However, women are seen as less capable of leadership when they act less competitively. According to Reuden, this is the “double-bind” women experience when they aspire to take on leadership roles.


Surveys Illuminate Women In Leadership Roles

81% of female business leaders agreed that career progression isn’t, and should not be, perceived as linear, as reported by Cigna, a global health service company. 86% of women would credit their current position and advanced skills to career changes they have made. The respondents advised the next generation of female leaders to work outside their skill set (86% agree) and changing industries (86%).

89% of respondents said that continuous technological innovation will require future female business leaders to actively seek new types of jobs, skills, and career experiences. 80% believed that confidence is an essential trait of successful female leaders, 98% believed that determination and having a strong desire to succeed is important whereas 99% said that having the ability to adapt is critical to progress in their careers.

Over 90% of women said that female leaders of tomorrow must feel like their voices are heard and taken into consideration and like they are part of the team. In another survey by KPMG— a global network of professional firms providing audit, tax, and advisory services— revealed that 86% of women recalled being taught to be nice to others growing up, 44% were taught to be a good leader, and 34% were taught to share their perspective.

76% of women today wished they had learned more about leadership and had more opportunities to lead while growing up. 67% said they need more support building confidence to feel like they can be leaders. A similar percentage of women stated they have learned the most important leadership lessons from other women. When the respondents were asked about the training and development skills needed to help women move into leadership roles in the future, they mentioned leadership training (57%), confidence building (56%), decision-making (48%), networking (47%), and critical thinking (46%) most often.

86% of women said they are motivated to get there themselves when they see more women in leadership, whereas 76% of working women planned to take active steps to help other women progress in their careers. Among working women aged 25 to 64, 56% said they are more cautious about taking steps toward leadership roles. For those aged 18 to 64, 59% admitted that they sometimes find it hard to see themselves as a leader.



The Privilege of Male Leadership: How Gender Norms Influenced Our Minds and Bodies

Reuden cited a 1999 journal by A.H. Eagly and W. Wood. Reuden explained that gender norms originate from our nature, which is attributed to men’s physical strength and women’s pregnancy and breastfeeding. It is said that physical strength made ancestral men more efficient in tasks such as hunting and warfare, meaning they were more likely to specialize in these tasks. On the other hand, ancestral women specialized in infant care, which could compromise their ability to be competitive or to take risks.

Reuden, who is an evolutionary anthropologist who studies leadership, argued that the evolutionary explanation of leadership is not persuasive on its own. He believed that gender norms are influenced by both the evolution of people’s bodies and minds.

Males did not specialize in hunting and other tasks due to their greater muscle mass alone, but they are also evolved to take risks to “show-off” to overtly compete more than females. Reuden acknowledged that these are “only average differences” as many women are more competitive than the average man. The evolved differences in behavior between men and women contribute to society’s prevailing norms. However, such differences do not determine and ethically justify entrenched societal norms.  



Move Over, Gender Inequalities: Researchers Tackle the Secret Behind Women Leaders During the Crisis

Memes of successful women leaders curbing the spread of the virus became viral on social media, noted Stephanie Fillion of business news Forbes. Dr. Kambhampati, Professor of Economics at the University of Reading and co-author of the study and Supriya Garikipati, Kambhampati’s colleagues and Associate Professor in Development Economics at the University of Liverpool, decided to assess the accuracy of the statement.

The researchers matched each women-led country with a “neighbor” country. The latter is led by male and should have similarities in terms of age, GDP per capita, and more. To illustrate, New Zealand was paired with Ireland, and Germany was matched with the UK.

The researchers were surprised by their findings. Dr. Kambhampati and Garikipati dropped some countries with both good and bad results and matched them with other countries. Still, the results were clear— they found that women leaders were doing better than their male peers. Only 19 countries were led by women. In the first few months of the pandemic, the majority of women-led countries were successful in controlling the pandemic. From Bangladesh to Iceland, their study revealed that some characteristics typically associated with women in leadership positions were pivotal in their country’s success.

Dr. Kambhampati stated, “It required big thinking, empathy, and good communication skills.” Dr. Kambhampati and Garikipati hypothesized that women were generally more risk-averse when making decisions. But during the pandemic, Dr. Kambhampati and Garikipati found that women were risk-averse with regard to human lives. Hence, women-led countries closed their country earlier than those led by men. This was also the time when the leaders saw fewer COVID-19 deaths. However, women were less risk-averse with regard to risking the economy.

Dr. Garikipati noted that women have been asked to act more like men to be successful, conjecturing that it is time for men to incorporate more female traits like empathy and clear communication.  She acknowledged that there are some cases of male leaders who may be better at addressing some issues, but others may not be that well-equipped when dealing with issues. She said, “This study is a call for diversity, for leaders of different types with different approaches for different circumstances.”


Women are criticized for being too confident when aspiring to become leaders, yet they are also lambasted for being less competitive. This double standard hinders women from taking on leadership roles, further exacerbating existing gender norms. In these trying times, male and female leaders practice empathy and effective communication with their citizens.