Why women in leadership positions are integral for moving our world forward.
It’s no secret that women all around the world have slowly been climbing their way up the corporate ladder for decades. In 2023, 10 percent of Fortune 500 companies had female CEOs and over 16 percent of their CFOs are women. This is a drastic increase from the 0.2 percent in 1972 when there was only one female CEO out of 500. But how much does their leadership actually change the performance of the company? An article from the American Psychological Association noted that, “women leaders help increase productivity, enhance collaboration, inspire organizational dedication, and improve fairness” despite the many challenges to their authority. Does this hold true for other jobs?
As business gradually becomes more and more inclusive, and workplaces benefit from breaking down barriers, it’s important to note just how much female leadership can impact a whole range of disciplines. From government and leadership during the COVID 19 pandemic, to medicine and improving mortality rates, women can bring a fresh perspective and improve each sector to positively impact thousands, if not millions of lives.
Women in Government
Despite compromising about 50 percent of the world population, women are severely underrepresented in government executive positions. A study published by the Pew Research Center demonstrates that fewer than a third of all UN member states have ever had a female leader and today only 13 of the 193 member countries have female leaders. That’s around 6 percent.
Despite this disparity of female governance, countries under female leadership saw an overall better outcome during the COVID-19 pandemic than countries with male leadership. A study revealed that countries with female executive leaders had lower death rates from the virus and a better control of the spread through their respective populations. This may be attributed to a better consideration of the emotions going through the population during the crisis which may have led to faster implementation of policies that controlled the spread. The study stated that,
“… the gender of leadership could well have been key in the current context where attitudes to risk and empathy mattered as did clear and decisive communications.” (Garikipati and Kambhampati, 2020)
These policies then resulted in fewer deaths and faster responses to the pandemic. While COVID-19 was an extreme case, where all countries were left reeling from its effects, the positive impact of female leadership goes deeper than leading during crises.
Countries with female leadership at the legislative level tend to prioritize helping their most vulnerable populations, and are less likely to engage in hostilities including human rights abuses.
As research done by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership indicates, “greater female representation in the legislature positively related to a longer lasting peace and reduced levels of conflict… lower military spending… and a more gender equal eventual peace deal…” and that, “states with higher levels of women legislators are less likely to commit personal integrity human rights abuses such as political imprisonment and torture.”
Now whether this is because countries who allow women to lead tend to be more equal societies as a whole, or because these countries are influenced by female leadership has yet to be established. But it is safe to say there is a correlation between the two.
Female leadership has more of a mixed reputation when it comes to the executive level. It’s true that there is psychological evidence that suggests that women are more adept at collaboration and communicating to avoid conflict while men tend to be more aggressive and less empathetic in hostile situations. But this may not be the case with female heads of state.
An article in Forbes magazine noted how the process to elect a female head of state may cut out more compassionate women in the election process. Leaving only the more masculine and aggressive contestants that feel they must prove themselves strong to avoid the ‘weak feminine’ stereotypes. Take for example, Margaret Thatcher (nicknamed the Iron Lady) and the war in the Falkland Islands.
And of course, not all female leaders are guaranteed to be morally incorruptible and idealistic candidates. They are human at the end of the day, but this does not detract from the data that shows that the inclusion of female leaders is overall beneficial for the country and its policies for social development.
“Even accounting for institutional context and other controls, being female-led has provided countries with an advantage in the current crisis [COVID-19].”“Leading the Fight Against the Pandemic: Does Gender ‘Really’ Matter?” by Garikipati and Kambhampati, 2021
Women in Medicine
Women are also changing the way we think about medicine and how it’s practiced. With more women becoming doctors and physicians than ever before, it’s important to consider why this matters.
Despite making up a majority of the global healthcare workforce, women take up disproportionately fewer medical doctor positions. It varies globally, but many ‘developed’ countries have low levels of female practitioners, for example, Japan has the lowest number of female doctors at just 10.2 percent.
This is just one of the barriers many female doctors around the world must push through in order to practice medicine. Despite this and other challenges, women continue to revolutionize the medical industry and create better outcomes for patients.
For example, female doctors tend to listen to concerns from female patients that are often disregarded by male practitioners. Unfortunately, medical gaslighting is a huge problem in modern medicine and it has a strong historical presence from older studies of medicine.
As Dr. McNally from the Katz Institute for Women’s Health stated in a discussion over these issues,
“It’s no accident that the word “hysteria” originates from the Greek word for ‘uterus.’ There’s still this pervasive belief in the medical community that anytime a woman complains about her health, it’s either related to her hormones or all in her head.”
As a result, many female patients feel overlooked by their doctors and rightfully so. Studies show that women are often at a higher risk for misdiagnosis for many conditions, including heart attacks.
A study from the University of Leeds revealed that, “This research found that women who had a final diagnosis of STEMI had a 59% greater chance of a misdiagnosis compared with men. Women who had a final diagnosis of NSTEMI had a 41% greater chance of a misdiagnosis when compared with men.” The study continued to say that the majority of these misdiagnoses are because of a lack of evidence based treatment for women. In other words, most research is done on men, by men, for men.
But with increasing numbers of female doctors, we could see this start to change.
Research done by the JAMA Internal Medicine Network found that women doctors had significantly lower mortality and readmission rates than their male counterparts in the same hospital. When applied to the whole field of medicine, they estimated that male physicians would see 32,000 fewer deaths each year if they utilized the same techniques as their female counterparts.
That is a major difference.
While the potential good done by increasing numbers of female doctors goes deeper than one article can cover, a brief overview provides convincing evidence that getting parity within the medical profession could be hugely beneficial to the whole population.
A Changing World
Women leading in government and medicine are just two examples of how drastically female leadership can improve the world. It’s important to acknowledge these victories as the world shifts to being more accepting towards powerful women. Female literacy and employment are already recovering from the setbacks of COVID-19.
Now more than ever it is critical to encourage young women to look up to female trailblazers and follow in their footsteps to change the world. When women have role models like those in business, government, and medicine, they feel more inspired to follow their path and advocate for their own success, paving the way for the next generation to follow.
The bottom line is, when more women are accepted into the workplace, they improve the work done. Increasing their numbers is critical to moving the world forward.