100,000 deaths. 100,000.
40,800,000 unemployed. Almost 41 million!
Numbers, number, numbers. Relentless, ever-climbing, numbers. They’re like drumbeats that won’t cease.
It’s easy to get lost in all those numbers, and sadly, to become numb to them.
You don’t need me to remind you of all the stark numbers out there.
So, this week, I want to look at other numbers.
- There are only 19 more days until the official start of summer—my favorite season.
- About 3.3 million students are projected to graduate high school by the end of this school year.
- Nine-hundred eighty-nine thousand individuals are expected to receive their associate’s degrees. 1,975,000, their bachelor’s degrees, 820,000 new masters, and 184,000 students will have earned their doctoral degrees!
Life Goes On
While many of these graduations took place on Zoom, they went on just the same. I had the honor of “attending” one of my student’s college graduations. It was incredibly moving, the speeches inspired and inspiring. All were full of hope!
Life is still going on during COVID. New life, too! A friend of mine from Antioch very recently had twin boys, and I read last week about a couple in Texas who just brought identical quadruplets into the world!! The New York Post calls that birth event a “1 in 11 million miracle!” How do you like them numbers!!
And here’s another number that we all need to keep in mind: 154 days to November 3. Whether in the booth or by mail, please encourage everyone you know to vote!
Speaking of which, leadership, while always important, is never more so than when countries are in crisis.
There are 195 countries in the world, all of which have, are, or will be dealing with hardships stemming from the pandemic. The vast majority of these countries are led (or ruled) by men. When examining various national responses to the pandemic, I learned that many of the strongest, most effective responses came from countries led by women.
Is anyone surprised?
(That was a rhetorical question, of course!)
Women in the Lead
Let’s take a look at the “who,” the “what,” the “how,” and maybe most important, the “why.”
Before we begin, here’s a little disclaimer, that I’m lifting from Elizabeth Ralph’s wonderful article in Politico Women Rule : “It’s basically impossible to know whether female leaders are better at containing the pandemic. Spread and death rates depend on many variables, including population density, wealth and past decades of health care preparedness. Societies that elect female leaders might also have cultures that make them better primed to handle a pandemic.”
“But” (the bold is hers, not mine), “there are still reasons to think female leaders are better positioned than men to tackle a health crisis.”
(I’m not sure I’d, personally, limit women’s “better positioning” to dealing with health crises. But since we’re talking about the pandemic, I’ll stick with that too.)
Who Are These Women Leaders and What’s So Special About Them?
Aviva Wittenberg-Cox, a CEO who writes for Forbes, answers the who’s and the what’s in her enlightening article about successful women leaders during the pandemic. I love how she breaks it down. Wittenberg-Cox attributes single, specific words or traits to these successful female leaders. Here are just a few.
Angela Merkel’s word is “truth.” Merkel came right out of the gate and told her country in no uncertain terms that the pandemic was the real deal. She warned Germany that up to 70% of its citizens could become infected with COVID19, and she acted on her plain, direct words by quickly instituting restrictions and testing—the largest-scale testing program in Europe.
Amanda Taub in her article in the New York Times adds the word diversity to the mix. “Having a female leader is one signal that people of diverse backgrounds—and thus, hopefully, diverse perspectives on how to combat crises—are able to win seats at that table.”
Merkel’s team considered diverse sources when creating their policy, looking at “epidemiological models; data from medical providers; and evidence from South Korea’s successful program of isolation and testing … By contrast, the male-led governments of Sweden and Britain—both of which have high coronavirus death tolls—appear to have relied primarily on epidemiological modeling by their own advisers, with few channels for dissent from outside experts.”
It seems a we-know-best attitude can have a terribly high cost.
Uniting with “Us” Instead of “Us vs. Them”
While women are too often falsely portrayed as wishy-washy, there is no hemming and hawing when it comes to both Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan and Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand. Wittenberg-Cox describes them as “decisive.” Tsai Ing-wen, in January, “introduced 124 measures to block the spread.” Because of her early success at containing the virus, through widespread testing, contact tracing, and social isolation requirements, Taiwan avoided a national lockdown. (They’ve also sent 10 million face masks to the United States and countries in Europe to help other countries with their efforts of containing the virus.)
Ardern also took quick, decisive measures. She locked down New Zealand and issued strict quarantine measures as soon as the virus hit. How did she get her country to accept the sudden, dramatic restrictions? Damien Cave, Australia bureau chief for the New York Times attributes her success to what he calls the “Jacinda Method.”
To see how Ardern leads, one can look back to her response to the 2019 Christchurch shooting. Cave writes, “she stood with the Muslim victims of a white supremacist mass shooter and declared: ‘They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not.’” Cave explains the simple yet powerful beauty of this approach. Arden “draws people into an ‘us’ rather than an ‘us versus them.’”
Isn’t that what really brings meaning to connection, that we are joined by our commonality rather than by our mutual disdain for whomever we might consider “the enemy?” Ardern’s focus on the “us” has helped her country during the COVID pandemic, when, as Cave writes, “truly everyone is being threatened.”
Tech and Love Are Not Mutually Exclusive
Other women have led successfully during the pandemic, including Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdotir of Iceland. Wittenberg-Cox describes her contribution as “Tech.” Jakobsdotir has provided free testing to all citizens of Iceland and her widespread contact tracing measures have allowed Iceland to avoid lock down and keep schools open.
“Love” is Erna Solberg’s word, although the Prime Minister of Norway is certainly not the only leader in the bunch to whom that word would apply. Solberg held a press conference for children across her country, taking the time to answer their questions, telling them that “it was OK to feel scared.”
So, we’ve answered much of the “who,” “what,” and “how” about these leaders, but what about the “why”? Why have women leaders been so disproportionately more successful in handling the pandemic than most of their male counterparts?
Our Socialization Working in Our Favor
The reason may lie in our cultural training. In the case of leadership, cultural expectations may actual help women and hinder men.
In her examination of the phenomenon, Ralph looked to Dr. Alice Eagly’s studies on gender differences. Eagly found that “‘the most robust difference (between men and women) … is a tendency for women to be more participative and collaborative in leadership, and men more authoritarian and top down.’”
Hmmm. I can’t imagine a scenario where an authoritarian approach would be the best for one’s constituents, but certainly, during a crisis situation like a pandemic, being open to the opinions of experts and scientists would present the most effective path.
Women, according to Eagly, are also more compassionate than men: “That’s stereotypically true, but it’s also actually true in data.” Compassion can go a long way in getting people to support tough decisions, like social distancing or considering their neighbors. Leaders who listen and respond to their constituents’ fears and concerns with compassion gain people’s trust.
Openness, collaboration, and compassion are areas where, traditionally, women shine. Women who embody those qualities are particularly well-suited to lead.
“The Masculinity Contest Problem”
Men, on the other hand, can be hampered by their socialization, which Ralph calls “The Masculinity Contest Problem.” Peter Glick, a social scientist who studies organizational culture, “found that for some men, ‘conceptions of what it means to be masculine and their commitment to always maintain that image gets in the way.’” For too many men, the masculine image includes an aggressive stance, the ability to project great power, and the avoidance of ever appearing what might be considered weak. Many of the male leaders of today have adopted the “masculine” stance. Unfortunately for them (and for their citizens), COVID19 refuses to be bullied and is not intimidated by tough talk. Unfortunate, too, that many male leaders make it a point not to model safe behavior, considerate of those around them.
By honoring wonderful women leaders, I by no means want to denigrate men!
Toxic masculinity … now that’s a different story! There are male leaders out there who are not slaves to a toxic vision of manhood, but, rather, embrace a more empathic and open leadership style.
Thank You, Doug Burgum
I was deeply moved, for example, when I heard Doug Burgum, Republican governor of North Dakota entreat his constituents not to see their mask-wearing neighbors as making a political statement: “If someone is wearing a mask,” Burgum said, “they’re not doing it to represent what political party they’re in or what candidates they support.”
It was at that point that Burgum paused. His voice was shaky. He was holding back tears.
“They might be doing it because they’ve got a five-year-old who’s been going through cancer treatments,” he said.
“They might have vulnerable adults in their life who currently have Covid-19 and are fighting. So again, I would just love to see our state, as part of being ‘North Dakota smart,’ also be ‘North Dakota kind … because if somebody wants to wear a mask, there should be no mask shaming.”
It feels to me like the tides are turning. While we have a long way to go before we can say we’ve put toxic masculinity to bed, there are more and more leaders embracing a different type of leadership. Compassion and commitment to science and safety are not signs of weakness, as our compassionate and committed leaders are showing us. Compassion and commitment save lives.
Like always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please post a comment or send me an email, and feel free to share on social media.
And before I sign off, I’d like to share some other numbers:
- With so many experiencing dramatic hits to their economic well-being due to the pandemic, people have been stepping up big to lend support. One World Together at Home has raised almost $128 million dollars (and counting) in COVID relief and has brought over 70 musical artists “together” who have lent their talents to the
- Other, more specific relief efforts have sprung up. The Restaurant Workers Community Foundation for example, has raised $6,143,533 as of May 22, to help restaurant workers, a group in dire need right now.
- There are food relief funds, funds for rent relief, on the international, national, state, and local levels. Sometimes those numbers can feel overwhelming too—so many organizations in need! New York Magazine has a great list of places to donate to help New Yorkers . Charity navigator, which has a long history of rating nonprofits to help people with “wise giving,” has a special page devoted to what they call “COVID Top Nonprofits”
Hope that helps!
There is, unfortunately, one more number that I cannot leave unmentioned this week. A shocking, stunning number that came to be after I’d already written this post: Almost 9 minutes–the amount of time Derek Chauvin’s knee was pressed against George Floyd’s neck.
I have no other words.
See you in two weeks, everyone. Be well.