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Helen Clark: Women leaders better in Covid-19 crisis 'because they don’t have such big egos'

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark has put the success of countries with female leaders in tackling Covid-19 down to their ability to listen and having less ego than their male counterparts.

Former and current prime ministers Helen Clark (left) and Jacinda Ardern. Source: Getty

New Zealand’s current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is one of a group of women leaders who have received international praise for their handling of the crisis.

Others include the leaders of Germany, Taiwan, Denmark and Finland, all countries which have had lower coronavirus infection and death rates than similar nations.

In a global interview for the BBC, Ms Clark said: “My observation would be that on average women leaders have done rather better than men.”

She described Ms Ardern’s leadership in the crisis as “incredible” in “very, very challenging circumstances”.

And while Ms Clark pointed to some male leaders who have responded well, such as president of South Korea Moon Jae-in, she added: “In general, women have a leadership style which is more lateral rather than top down, more consultative, more inclined to listening, not such big egos, and will take advice.”

She said the skills of the current group of women leaders were empathy and communication with the public, which was vital because the best strategy won’t succeed if the public don’t buy into it.

The apparent phenomenon of women leaders’ successes has been widely looked at during the pandemic, with the New York Times in an editorial this week saying Ms Ardern had performed a “master class” based on a clear, compassionate message.

Another US publication, Forbes magazine, also looked into the issue in April with one writer concluding that the answer goes beyond clichés about women being “emotionally intelligent and motherly”.

“It turns out women are just as good and sometimes better at some of what we think of as male qualities, like being decisive and making tough calls,” it concluded.

* Helen Clark’s BBC interview is available on the Global News Podcast, at 18mins 10secs.