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To Deal With the Coronavirus Crisis, We Must Put More Women in Positions of Influence
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gives an update on the fight against the coronavirus during a news conference at Parliament on Feb. 28, 2021 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

To Deal With the Coronavirus Crisis, We Must Put More Women in Positions of Influence

Ma’ariv, Israel, March 7

The coronavirus crisis created a paradox of sorts: on the one hand, the main group affected economically and socially by the pandemic has been women. On the other hand, those who managed to act best against the pandemic on both a national and local scale are women leaders. Now is the time to understand the value of female leadership, and why we must pursue it for a better society. Even today, in 2021, the gaps between men and women in management and leadership positions are huge. The proportion of women standing at the head of countries and in key positions is still light years away from their share of the population. The past year has intensified these gaps even further. The biggest victims of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of career advancement and employment opportunities have been women. At the same time, women politicians have been considerably more effective than their male counterparts at combating the spread of the virus. The best-known example is Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, whose successful handling of the coronavirus crisis will go down in the books of history (as was evidenced by her sweeping victory in last October’s state elections). Alongside Ardern are other impressive women leaders, such as President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, Prime Minister Sanna Marin of Finland, and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. All of these strong women proved excellent and commendable leadership in dealing with the crisis. So why is it that female leaders succeeded in standing out during this crisis? One possible explanation is that the pandemic forced leaders to stop thinking about their organizations from the standpoint of management and start thinking about them in terms of leadership. Whereas a leader’s role during ordinary times is to come up with work plans and set common objectives for the organization, this role dramatically changes during a crisis. During a state of emergency, that role is about building coalitions, winning the support of others, and inspiring people to act. Simply put, emergency situations require much more diffusion of power out of recognition that wisdom lays with the masses; not with a single person. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed that women are much better at doing the latter: they are, on average, more attentive to those around them, more likely to think carefully through risks, and are better at fostering meaningful connections. Women spend their entire lives juggling competing tasks and balancing competing ideals. This is exactly what the coronavirus crisis forced leaders to do, and it is for this reason that women have excelled at addressing it. As a society, we must address these two extremes that the coronavirus crisis has created: one of self-proven female leadership and the other of women paying the heaviest economic price of the crisis by being taken out of the labor market. Even when the current health crisis is behind us, its social and economic impacts will endure. In order to best address those, we must place more and more women in positions of influence and decision-making.  – Anat Nehemiah Lavie (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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