The one good news story of 2020 seems to have been the rise of female leadership. In April, a Washington Post headline declared that female leaders were “hailed as voices of reason amid the coronavirus chaos.” High-profile figures like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen emerged as perfect foils to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Since then, our research confirmed that male-led countries had 1.9 times more COVID-19 deaths per million than their female counterparts during the first five months after outbreak or roughly the first wave of coronavirus. However, despite the appealing headlines, our research also found that there is a catch: female leaders did not perform better because of their sex, but rather because of their leadership skills.
We tested four popular theories commentators put forward to explain the coronavirus gender gap. Were female leaders more likely to: involve experts in decisions, show empathy, communicate instructions clearly, or take early action to avoid loss of life?