Agathe Puertas, Advanced Master’s in International Purchasing and Supply Chain Management student at ESSEC Business School, draws on female role models during the COVID pandemic to offer an inspiring message to women aiming for a leadership role.
The time has come to acknowledge the importance of women’s contributions. Despite the continuing seriousness of the global health crisis, the pandemic brought to light the crucial role of women both inside and outside the home, in clinics and health centers, at work and in politics. So, the question arises: how has the COVID-19 pandemic given more importance to the role of women in business and society?
Acknowledging the past to build a better future
Recent pandemics, such as Ebola, Zika and SARS, have shown that including women’s needs in emergency response is no small task. But failing to do so would exacerbate inequality, with long-term consequences that would be difficult to reverse.
Furthermore, numerous studies in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis indicated that countries with a higher proportion of women in leadership roles, especially in the financial sector, were less affected by the global economic crisis.
Variability between countries is explained by a variety of factors. Community, legislation, resource disparities, geographical conditions, and social norms all have an effect on a wide variety of performance indicators. However, the global effect has been the same: the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how fragile the equilibrium of our interconnected environment is.
Therefore, it is important to consider the consequences of previous crises in order to better grasp how the present health crisis will affect women in business and society.
With great powers come great responsibilities
“Stay home, stay safe, be kind and let’s finish what we started,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said last year on Facebook Live, talking about the COVID-19 crisis in her country. Clear communication, fast decision-making and an eagerness to listen to science. This are only a few of the awards given to female politicians including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for their treatment of the crisis. Ardern was also lauded for her selection of the most diverse cabinet in New Zealand’s history. Out of twenty members, eight are women, three are LGBTQIA+, five are Māori and three Pasifika. For the first time, all New Zealanders are represented in a cabinet.
Over the last quarter century, women’s power in many areas of public life has grown dramatically. Women are entering politics in greater numbers than ever before, and their clout over high-level decision-making is rising. It is worth noting that almost half of the world’s population – 47% exactly – believed men were better political leaders than women in 2019. Currently, 10% of women are national leaders in the world.
Tsai Ing-Wen, Taiwan’s President – the country’s first female president – decided to learn from the 2003 SARS outbreak. Taiwan responded quicker than many other countries by preventing early travel from China, imposing stringent health screenings, and increasing face mask production.
Indeed, women Heads of Government in countries such as Ethiopia, Finland and Iceland have been lauded for their ability to respond quickly to crises. In countries like Canada, Ethiopia and India, women medical and health experts are increasingly found in leadership positions and leading regular press conferences and public service announcements.
It is important to note that women are not necessarily better at managing crises. Part of the reason we are seeing women in politics doing so well and being covered favorably during this period is that there are so many high-profile male politicians taking such a different approach to dealing with the crisis, and so the difference is more noticeable.
Nevertheless, women’s participation in decision-making promotes stability, protection, community trust and financial transparency, as well as a greater emphasis on reducing inequalities. All of society benefits.
Ruder Bader Ginsburg: “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”
All over the world, women have responsibilities. They run businesses and are presidents of countries. They are in charge of hospitals and schools. They lead international groups, organizations and sports teams. All the while caring for their families and communities.
Women represent the majority of frontline workers, accounting for 70% of health and social-services employees worldwide. And within these 70%, there is Sarah Gilbert, Professor of vaccinology at University of Oxford and co-founder of Vaccitech. Professor Gilbert may be the closest thing to a real-life superhero. The scientist and her team worked on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. And when she was asked about the sleep-deprived months that followed, she answered, “I’m trained for it. I’m the mother of triplets.”
Women’s empowerment is a crucial component of ensuring gender equality. It involves strengthening a woman’s sense of self-worth, decision-making capacity, access to opportunities and wealth, power and autonomy over her own life both within and outside the home, and willingness to affect change. “In this unprecedented crisis, women have strengthened their relative position in the company. They have demonstrated their optimism, adaptability and ability to seize the opportunity of a culture now based more on trust and the common good. An increased requirement for an increased commitment.” commented Marie Guillemot, Partner member of the Executive Committee and future president of KPMG France.
Break the silence, take action
The role model effect of female leaders as given a symbolic and meaningful message to younger women. Seeing women in charge is persuading parents and teens that women can run things. It increases their ambitions, changes their perceptions and most of all, gives them hope for their future.
Moreover, there are signs that things are improving. Germany, for example, has approved historic law creating a legal quota for gender in boardrooms, according to the N26 equality report. And Kamala Harris, the first female vice president of the United States, was elected on January 20, 2021. While there is still space for growth, all is not lost.
There is a great opportunity for policymakers to reimagine a new way of working in the economy that values a lot of the work that women have done that hasn’t been appreciated before.
There will be a lot of overlapping interests, but we just have one major shot at the start to ensure that we will get on track to a fair and balanced recovery. If we cut women out, or don’t center them in the dialog, we might end up in the same place in a few months wondering how to do so. Greater gender diversity carries with it a wider range of insights and problem-solving approaches, resulting in timelier and better-quality decisions.
Overall, the pandemic emphasized the role of women leaders. Women have given vibrant, memorable testimonials to the importance of their leadership. This pandemic has taught us to encourage meaningful intervention in favor of women. Despite many gender-specific barriers, women play an important role in global growth and prosperity though their involvement in business and society.
I encourage women and girls who dream to be leaders to do everything they can to make it come true. Do not put off your decision and do not wait. It is your right, and the world needs you – now more than ever.
“The question is not who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” – Ayn Rand.
- Dent, G. 2020. “Female World Leaders Are Rare: And They’re Outperforming Men in Managing COVID 19.” Women’s Agenda, April.
- Inter-Parliamentary Union. 2020. “Gender and COVID-19: A Guidance Note for Parliaments.” April.
- Chamorro-Premuzic, T. 2020. “Are Women Better at Managing the COVID19 Pandemic?” 10 April.
- Wenham, C., J. Smith, R. Morgan, on behalf of the Gender and COVID-19 Working Group, “COVID-19: The Gendered Impacts of the Out-break.” 2020. The Lancet, vol. 395, 14 March.
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Learn more about the Council on Business & Society
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The Council on Business & Society (The CoBS), visionary in its conception and purpose, was created in 2011, and is dedicated to promoting responsible leadership and tackling issues at the crossroads of business and society including sustainability, diversity, ethical leadership and the place responsible business has to play in contributing to the common good.
In 2020, member schools now number 7, all “Triple Crown” accredited AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA and leaders in their respective countries.
- ESSEC Business School, France-Singapore-Morocco
- FGV-EAESP, Brazil
- School of Management Fudan University, China
- IE Business School, Spain
- Keio Business School, Japan
- Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
- Warwick Business School, United Kingdom.