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With the COVID-19 pandemic stopping the economic and social life of entire countries, researchers wanted to know which leaders made a difference in delivering a (more) positive outcome. From hiring, pre employment assessments, to travel, the results may affect how organizations attribute leadership in times of crisis. The University of Liverpool conducted a statistical analysis of 194 countries. Their conclusions: countries with women leaders performed better. Their countries suffered half as many COVID-related deaths.

The most well-known female leaders include New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Both have received distinct praise in their quick response to coronavirus, choosing to shuttering down their borders and economies in order to save human lives. The US President Donald Trump, on the other hand, lies as a distinct example of the antithesis of women leadership during the pandemic.

Professor Supriya Garikipati, leading the research, concludes to Vice: “Our results clearly indicate that women leaders reacted more quickly and decisively in the face of potential fatalities. In almost all cases, they locked down earlier than male leaders in similar circumstances”. These decisions were not made lightly, as it was clear there would be economic implications involved. However a lower number of deaths due to COVID is one clear and positive outcome. Out of the 194 countries examined, 19 were led by women. To conduct the research, the study created “nearest neighbour” countries based on a number of factors, such as GDP, population, population age, health expenditure, equality and openness to travel.

What does women in leadership mean during times of crisis?

pre-employment assessment

For one, the pandemic response serves as contra evidence against the gendered stereotype that women are risk averse. Rather these women leaders risked their economies (and their popularity) to save lives.

Organizations want leaders who are able to make decisive decisions---even when it’s unpopular and there may be some negative blowback to these choices. In his book “Tough Calls from the Corner Office: Top Business Leaders Reveal Their Career-Defining Moments”, Harlan Steinbaum points out how defining decisions are made. As former chairman and CEO of Medicare-Glaser, one of the largest retail pharmacy chains in the US, Steinbaum calls such decisions “defining moments”.

What is a “defining moment” decision?

A defining moment has the greatest impact on the leader’s organization. As such, the risks are usually greater, the potential downsides — if there's a problem — are usually great, but the rewards are also usually significant. It’s not an easy call. But as Steinbaum suggests, a great leader makes a “ defining-moment decision (by studying) all the facts, learn(ing) everything about the circumstances, the pros and cons, the cost-benefit analysis, and then make the decision. It’s really got to be thought out”.

Compared to male managers, women tend to be more creative and open-minded. They’re also more likely to consider all aspects of any situation or decision to be made, including interpersonal and emotional impact that may be overlooked or disregarded. This may be one reason why women leaders were quick to act during the pandemic.

How to look for this kind of leadership within employees or candidates?

Female leadership

The first step is setting up an unbiased recruiting and hiring practice. Much of the bias in the talent hiring and development phase is unconsciously done. One step is digitizing the pre-employment assessment experience, ensuring a more even playing field for female candidates to receive an interview offer.

Not only does it ensure that more female leadership is getting through the door, a pre-employment assessment saves time and money. Given that $4,000 is the average amount that US companies spend to fill an open position, the pre-employment test needs to be effective. According to some estimates, a bad sales hire costs between 50-75% of that hire’s annual salary. If a salesperson earns $50,000 per year, the fit costs between $25,000 and $37,500 to replace. A simple pre-employment assessment can weed out poor fit easily and pays dividends.

What are other ways can female leadership be sought during the hiring process?

Other recruitment functions include training interviewers for conducting bias-free, in-person interviews, accessible on-site visits, and/or planning for a female leadership mentoring program. 71% of people with a mentor say their company provides them with good opportunities to advance in their career, compared with 47% of those without a mentor. Interestingly, women are more likely to have a mentor than men, around 54% versus 48%. Showcasing these resources to candidates and employees is one way to capture and retain talent.

female leadership

How much the pre-screening stage affect female leadership?

It may remain a bit unclear as to what’s the exact approach in building out an effective pre-employment assessment and system. After all, female applicants may be a tad skeptical about pre-employment assessments. However each step of the hiring and interviewing process can be harnessed to sift to find female-powered leadership.

  • When posting vacancies, be sure to use gender-neutral language on online job boards or your company’s website
  • Use a pre-screening method, like AI technology, that weighs applicants on their responses and experience rather than their appearance when creating an initial interview
  • Conduct a Big 5 personality trait, pre-employment assessment; look for qualities of leadership such as Openness and Conscientiousness
  • Coordinate interviews and conduct interviews after undergoing gender-bias training

Organizations often make applicants---male or female--- go through the obstacle course of setting up accounts, manually filling out application information, or requesting a cover letter. Ew. No one likes that. A job seeker is often looking for feedback---even if it’s a rejection. The most irritating response a hiring manager can send is “After all those hoops, just fill out this pre-employment assessment to see if you’re a fit”.

This defeats the purpose of not only creating a streamlined candidate experience, but it takes precious time away from candidates. For women, these kinds of actions may be even more perilous. Research already shows that women tend to screen themselves out of the conversation, believing they’re under qualified and end up applying to 20% fewer jobs than men. By adding another barrier to entry, this discourages even more women from continuing on the application journey.

Organizations need a seamless, female-friendly pre-employment assessment and process. Part of making it conducive to gain more women leadership is ensuring that personality is factored in---not gender.

The Big 5 Personality Trait theory is a widely-accepted theory from the field of psychology. The theory suggests personality factors can be differentiated and distilled into five separate components:

N = Need for stability, negative emotionality, neuroticism
E = Extraversion, positive emotionality, sociability
O = Originality, openness, imagination
A = Agreeableness, accommodation, adaptability
C = Consolidation, conscientiousness, will to achieve, goal-oriented

In terms of leadership, the Big 5 often finds the natural leader (or cultivated leader) to possess these quality: resilient (N-); energetic, outgoing and persuasive (E+); visionary (O+); competitive (A-); and dedicated to a goal (C+).

Leadership often involves persuading people to pursue a common goal that benefits a whole group of people, not just themselves. Fortunately, women leaders seem to have this on the forefront of their actions: to think of the welfare of the group, not just a privileged few. We’ve seen this playout with the COVID pandemic; we should expect to see this play out in organizations and in industries as we’re expected to navigate through these uncertain times. Word of the wise, keep the pre-employment test person-centric---not gender-biased, unlike in-person interviews. Your organization may need individuals (like women) to make defining-moment decisions.


Leading companies leverage Retorio's AI to support their own talent management teams. Our video-based AI was featured in TechCrunch and Süddeutsche Zeitung .

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Elizabeth T.

Written by Elizabeth T.

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