‘Women make better leaders than men’

Iconic: Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern; Queen Elizabeth II.

In the wake of the Christchurch shooting, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been hailed as “the leader the world needs right now”. Are women better leaders than men?

Amid the horror of the Christchurch mosque shooting, New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, attracted international praise for her calm response and swift action.

“Ardern redefined what it means to be a leader in toxic, deeply disillusioned times,” wrote journalist Carol Toller. “She mustered unfathomable grace and eloquence and reassured a rattled country with unwavering inclusiveness.”

Meanwhile, in the US, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is leading a left-wing youth surge in American politics.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Queen Elizabeth II has helped steer Britain for 67 tumultuous years in a rapidly changing world.

These are just a few are examples of inspiring, exemplary female leaders at work today. Yet more often than not, women are still excluded from the top levels of power.

Last year, there was fanfare after the US midterm elections saw 102 women elected to the House of Representatives. In fact, this amounts to just 23.5% of the 435 seats — a figure below the global average of 24.1%.

And there are fewer women the higher you go up the chain of power.

Women occupy just one in five Cabinet-level positions across the globe. In business, there are just seven female CEOs in the FTSE 100 list of the UK’s biggest companies — the same amount are named David.

This is despite some evidence that women make better leaders than men. Two major studies of thousands of business leaders have found that female bosses beat their male colleagues in almost all measures of leadership skills, including initiative, motivation and management.

Employers working under female bosses also reported feeling more engaged in their work.

But why?

“We need to work harder than men to prove ourselves,” suggested one female respondent.

For many decades, gender stereotypes have worked against women. “Male” characteristics like competitiveness have been associated with leadership, while women were regarded as too gentle and emotionally unstable to take charge. These prejudices are now falling apart.

Who runs the world?

Are women better leaders than men? Or is it wrong to pit men and women against each other? Stereotypically “feminine” characteristics can be strengths. Ardern’s compassion and vulnerability allowed her to connect with people after a terrorist atrocity. Would more male leaders benefit from following her example?

Besides, are men and women really fundamentally different? Or are we just treated differently by society? Many neuroscientists argue that there is no such thing as a “female” or “male” brain, although new scientific evidence suggests that females have more “robust” brains than males from birth.

You Decide

  1. Are women better leaders than men?
  2. Are men and women born different?

Activities

  1. Write down three qualities that you think made a good leader, and three qualities that are unsuitable for leadership.
  2. Choose another woman who you believe is a great leader and prepare a five-minute presentation explaining what leadership qualities she possesses. Give evidence.

Some People Say...

“Women have a much better time than men in this world; there are far more things forbidden to them.”

Oscar Wilde

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
In a 2017 study, 3,000 managers rated female bosses as better than men in four areas: communication, innovation, supportiveness and goal-setting. Men, however, outperformed women on emotional stability. This may be because it is less socially acceptable for men to display emotions.
What do we not know?
Whether women and men are born to behave differently, or whether differences emerge through social conditioning and gender stereotypes. The belief that men and women are fundamentally different is called “gender essentialism”. In some cases, gender essentialism can cross over into sexism, for example when it is argued that women are only suited to some jobs (for example, caring for children) because of their biology.

Word Watch

Swift action
Immediately after the attack, in which 50 Muslims died, Ardern announced a ban on all semi-automatic weapons.
Queen Elizabeth II
She is the longest reigning British monarch, outlasting other iconic rulers like Queen Victoria or Elizabeth I. Few kings have commanded the same renown, considering how many more of them there have been.
House of Representatives
The lower house of the US Congress, which makes laws in the US. It is roughly equivalent to the House of Commons in the UK.
Average
Only three countries in the world have more women than men in parliament. These are Rwanda — where women make up 61.3% — Cuba and Bolivia.
Cabinet
The top-level ministers who run a government. For example, Treasury Secretary Liz Truss in the UK.
Two
The first is a survey of 7,280 leaders published in the Harvard Business Review in 2012. The second, a 2017 study led by the BI Norwegian Business School, surveyed 3,000 managers.
Evidence
For the first time, scientists scanned the brains of infants in the womb. They found that very young male brains are more sensitive to their environment, or “malleable”.