Over the past few weeks we have seen leadership show up in many different forms. Leave it to a crisis to shine a light on truly great leaders, as well as the not so great ones. Our male leaders continue to fill the headlines overshadowing the equally great work of female leaders. Perhaps this crisis will give women their due. It’s not easy to lead during unprecedented times, but women are more than equipped to lead, and not just during a crisis.

In times like this people want answers, clear direction, transparent communication and empathetic guidance. This is not a matter of politics. It’s a matter of good leadership. Even though 70% of our healthcare workers are female, only 19% of women are interviewed as “experts” we are typically hearing from men.  In my not-so-humble opinion, we need more women in senior positions who are part of the decision-making process when it comes to research work, medicines and vaccines. With few women serving in these leadership positions, it is quite likely that the hurdles faced by women- and not just during this crisis- will continue to stifle equality. 

Plenty of women are rising and leading well during this crisis. Here are a few examples of women standing up, making tough choices and putting people first:

Responsibility and Collaboration. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has given us an exquisite tutorial on how to lead in a crisis. On March 23rd, she held a press conference that highlighted her ability to deliver an impassioned plea for compliance, while taking full responsibility for the situation. She didn’t make political decisions- she made human ones.  She has consistently conveyed a message of unity. Professor Michael Baker, epidemiologist with the University of Otago, and member of the New Zealand Ministry of Health Pandemic Influenza Technical Advisory Group, said “Jacinda approached this [crisis] decisively and unequivocally faced the threat. It’s a triumph of science and leadership.” Agreed.

Trust and Transparency. Dr. Deborah Birx who you have seen front and center with Dr. Anthony Facui.  She came to the White House after serving as U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy at the State Department. She has an impressive history of impactful work. We have come to appreciate her ability to take complex information and break it down into laymen’s terms. She has also brought empathy and compassion, along with the reminder that she too is a mother, a relationship attribute. That communicates trust, which is important during times of uncertainty. Leadership is trust!

Authentic and Consistent. As a resident of Illinois, I have been impressed with the leadership of Chicago’s Mayor, Lori Lightfoot. During her first Covid19 address to the city of Chicago she offered hope, “As Chicagoans, we may get bent, but we are never broken.” Normally a very stoic and unwavering leader, we’ve seen a different side of Lightfoot during this time. Her recent PSA’s titled, “Stay Home, Save Lives” demonstrates her commitment not only to safety, but to humor, establishing her humanness. She’s been on the front lines making sure people are doing what they need to in order to stay safe.

So, what strengths serve women well in leadership roles?  Dr. Alice H. Eagly, a professor of psychology, and top scholar on gender and leadership, provides some insight. “There is considerable evidence that female leaders have a somewhat more participative, androgynous, and transformational leadership style than their male counterparts. There are also multiple indications that women, compared with men, enact their leader roles with a view to producing outcomes that can be described as more compassionate, benevolent, universalistic, and ethical, thus promoting the public good.”

When people are afraid, they crave empathy, compassion and trust. If they are being led with those skills, and the message that we’ll all come out of this stronger, there is hope. And great leaders provide hope. 

There are many stories of women standing up and having an impact during this difficult time. When the dust settles and we come out on the other side, I hope we’ll remember the women who stood six feet away from their male counterparts and led well. For now, I’m taking copious notes. I look forward to writing other stories about women rising.