GLOBALLY, women leaders have had more success in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic than male leaders, an academic study by Liverpool and Reading universities tried to convince us this week. A smattering of data here and a few comparisons there, throw in a couple of bar charts and, ta-da, I for one was sold. There’s nothing like a good dose of confirmation bias. I’m a women. My closest friends are women. I’ve had some inspiring female bosses. None of this surprises me.

The study tells us that “Covid-outcomes are systematically better in countries led by women and, to some extent, this may be explained by the proactive and coordinated policy responses adopted by them.” But hold on! Is this really because they are women? I’m not a massive fan of generalisations because they lead to stereotypes. I mean, I’m a woman who takes an hour to decide what to watch on Netflix, who stares in food-envy at fellow-diners’ meal choices in restaurants, and who, more than once, has been told to remove my rose-tinted specs.

Whilst it does look as though countries with female leaders, on the whole, were quicker to lock-down and have been more risk averse when it comes to people’s lives – Germany, New Zealand, and Taiwan come to mind as having had far fewer Covid deaths than male-led countries such as the US, Brazil, UK or India, it doesn’t explain male-led countries like Greece, for example where Covid deaths remained relatively low.

Men like Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro have used their leadership platforms during the pandemic to build themselves up and minimise the concerns around the virus by declaring it to be “a little flu” and attacking scientific experts. Just this week President Trump declared that Covid was a test from God asking him to make the economy strong again. According to Trump: “He said, ‘you know you did it once’. And I said ‘Did I do a great job, God?’ I’m the only one that could do it.’”.

Who can forget Boris Johnson’s ill-fated declaration that he’d been to a hospital where there were coronavirus patients and he had shaken everyone’s hand. In the Philippines, which had one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in south east Asia, President Duterte told police and military to take matters into their own hands when dealing with lockdown breakers: “Shoot them dead...Do you understand? Dead.” None of these are words we could imagine tumbling from current women leaders’ mouths.

Instead, women like Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel and, latterly, after an arguable initial hesitancy, Nicola Sturgeon, have taken a more active listening approach. Taking advice from experts, collaborating with colleagues and, importantly, keeping the ego firmly in check, these leaders were honest and clear from the start. Whilst many world leaders were playing the threat down, Merkel told Germans that 70% of the population might be affected and that it would be Germany’s biggest challenge since the Second World War.

Ardern’s early motto was: “We must go hard and we must go early.” In January, in Taiwan, President Tsai Ing-Wen introduced strict travel restrictions and quarantine controls for passengers entering from high-risk areas, resulting in just under 500 deaths in a country of nearly 24 million. But despite my strong impulse to declare womanhood to be the reason for this, the truth is maybe a little more prosaic. Perhaps being women simply predisposes them to having certain qualities required for good leadership – strong communication skills, empathy, honesty and trust. The aforementioned men are just sadly lacking in those.

Leaders who were more risk averse at the thought of many deaths and who therefore took decisions to shut down whole economies will now be tested as economies begin to open up again. The criticism is that they have not been risk averse when it comes to the damage they have done to their economies.

But it looks like the gamble to close down hard and fast in the hope that less damage might be done to the economy might just pay off. Germany’s economy appears to be recovering and schemes like the Kurzarbeit programme, which allows workers to work reduced hours instead of being laid off, is expected to be extended by Merkel for 24 months to bring stability for workers, which the end of the UK's furlough scheme may not.

In Scotland, Sturgeon is calling for furloughing to be extended, whilst clamping down on clusters of the virus and rule-breakers like a tough headmistress. In New Zealand, a quick economic recovery has been put on hold by Arden as she locks down again to eliminate, rather than simply contain, the virus. It will take nerves of steel for any leader, regardless of gender, to see if this particular strategy pays off.

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