UCL School of Management

3 December 2020

What has 2020 meant for female leadership

The implications of what COVID-19 means for women in the workplace and leadership will be evaluated for many years to come. Inevitably there are new trends emerging that are important for us to take the time to understand. 

Dr Sunny Lee spoke to Management Today to discuss the sex and gender-related implications of the pandemic for employees and organisations, and why she believes the social-psychological impacts of the pandemic may be accentuated by gender.   
Since the pandemic stopped the world in its tracks in March this year, we have observed a pattern of female leaders such as Angela Merkel, Jacinda Arden and Tsai Ing-wen successfully managing the crisis and in most cases more successfully than their male counterparts. Sunny suggests the female approach to communications could be a contributing factor to their success, as it can help people to cope with emerging changes as women tend to be more egalitarian, agile and attentive in comparison to male communication styles. 
Sunny believes there are many aspects that have made female leader’s crisis management style a success, and the empathy characteristically associated with their gender is most certainly a contributory factor. Research also suggests that women’s strong concern for people in moral decision making, higher sensitivity to risk, higher conscientiousness and dependability are strengths in managing extremely uncertain situations or crises affecting a wide array of stakeholders.
All of the ‘female-typical traits’ combined provide the recipe for a great leader during times of crisis and change, and COVID-19 has provided the platform to showcase the success of female-style leadership which needs to be more widely appreciated at a company level. 
Assistant Professor at the School of Management Tom Taiyi Yan’s research into the gender gap revealed that while improvements are being made in closing the gap, the pace of change is still too slow. Tom’s research highlighted that in the traditional work environment men still emerge into leadership roles more frequently than women. 
Sunny also discussed how one a day-to-day level women have been hit hardest by the pandemic in terms of unemployment, additional household-related and child care responsibilities. For example, women are highly represented in sectors which have been hit particularly hard such as hospitality, cleaning and beauty. These types of jobs do not easily transfer to the work-from-home model and have meant increased job losses and uncertainty for women in particular. 
Last updated Tuesday, 15 December 2020