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Female Leadership through COVID-19

As a women-owned and women-led company, the success of female leadership through COVID-19 is an inspiration and must be highlighted. 

We’ve rounded up powerful women who have been guiding people through the COVID-19 pandemic effectively. Read on for our takeaways that you can apply to your own leadership style.  

Dr. Bonnie Henry, Chief Medical Officer, British Columbia

We have to start with the woman who has been leading and inspiring our province to flatten the curve and stay safe! Her calm demeanour and informative updates have been immensely helpful.

Dr. Henry’s leadership even inspired John Fluevog to design a shoe named after her, the Dr. Henry. Fluevog said in a statement, “At times like these, we’re so fortunate to have someone who is calm and comforting but direct and positive and realistic, informing and educating us day to day,”.  Dr. Henry will also be featured in a portrait series fundraising for Our Place, an inner-city organization that supports vulnerable individuals in Victoria, BC.

Her latest update informs BC residents on the recent rise in cases that are found especially in young people.

What can we learn from Dr. Bonnie Henry?

  • Transparent communication is crucial to building trust; it encourages people to listen and understand the why underneath what you’re asking them to do.
  • In crises, model confidence. When a leader models the emotions they want from their team, it can help motivate people… especially in crises! Mitigating emotions is essential to keeping people focused, on task, and less likely to get overwhelmed.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Chief Medical Officer, Alberta

Alberta’s chief medical officer has been praised for leading from the heart and balancing a calm and compassionate presence at her daily press releases. Dr. Hinshaw completed her residency in geriatrics and has demonstrated great empathy for the families who have lost loved ones.

For instance, Dr. Hinshaw completed a press release from home while awaiting test results when she was feeling sick. She works twelve-hour days, 6 days a week reviewing policies, making decisions, and updating Albertans.

Dr. Hinshaw continues to receive public acclaim in the form of a caricature, t-shirts, and a plesiosaur cast named after her. Her infamous periodic table dress has been in high demand from a BC designer. Nevertheless, she remains humble and focused on her work.

What can we learn from Dr. Deena Hinshaw?

  • Empathetic leadership and demonstrating emotion are strengths, not weaknesses.
  • Be human and nonpartisan with your team. It builds trust and comforts people in times of crisis.

Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister, New Zealand

The New Zealand Prime Minister has been receiving international acclaim for her management of COVID-19, especially as NZ declared itself COVID-19 free last month. Even though they’ve had a few more cases, numbers remain low.

Many attribute this to Ardern’s conservative approach to COVID-19, shutting down borders in February, and entering a full lockdown on March 25.

Citizens have appreciated the government’s “consistent messaging about prioritizing health, frequent communication, and daily PM press conferences.” Ardern has consistently emphasized and prioritized the health and safety of her citizens.

The research of American professors Jacqueline and Milton Mayfield has shown there are three critical elements to effective leadership communication. It must be “direction-giving”, “meaning-making” and rooted in “empathy”. Most politicians favour the first option, however, Ardern has skillfully employed all three in her communication.

Her message has consistently been “stay home to save lives” which outlines a clear direction and meaning while empathizing with what her citizens need. Her press releases have been accessible and question-oriented, even hosting a Facebook Live after putting her toddler to bed to connect with her people.

What can we learn from Jacinda Ardern?

  • Manage expectations. Ardern states plainly what each decision will entail. When the New Zealand government implemented Level 4 lockdown, Ardern informed citizens it would take two weeks to see results in the numbers. No sugar-coating.
  • Use two-way communication as much as possible; Ardern has offered citizens and media tons of opportunities to ask questions.
  • De-bureaucratize information. Ardern delivers press releases from home in a casual environment which lets her community know she’s a human being! Leaders can get caught up in appearing composed, formal, and overly articulate in crises. However, most teams will appreciate and prefer your honesty and authenticity.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, U.S. Congresswoman representing New York 14

Very popular among younger Americans, Ocasio-Cortez has taken an empathetic approach to handle COVID-19 in the NY districts that have been hit the hardest, Queens and The Bronx. She focuses on relating to and being present in her community. She’s challenging ideas of privatized healthcare and other systems that are disadvantaging lower-income residents of her district.

In an interview with ABC News, AOC said: “We talk about what the solutions to systemic inequality is, it needs to be systemic solutions.”

What can we learn from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

  • Prioritize team or community input. Be conscientious about the impact of a decision on individuals, not just the business.
  • Be values-aligned, always. Ocasio-Cortez can command such trust because she unwaveringly makes decisions, and votes, based on her values.


Female essential workers  

Not only have women been disproportionately affected and put at risk by COVID-19, but they also make up more of the essential workers. According to CTV, women represent more than 90 percent of nurses, 75 percent of respiratory therapists, and up to 90 percent of Personal Support Workers (PSW) caring for seniors in long-term care homes and home care. Moreover, women are also more likely to be cleaners, grocery store cashiers, and stocking shelves.

What can we learn from female essential workers?

  • Bravery, resilience, and strength. When it comes to health care, these women are working longer shifts and are at much higher risk for contracting COVID-19. For all of us with the privilege of working from home or maintaining social distancing, these women deserve our respect and gratitude.


These are just a few women representing phenomenal female leadership. Countries with female leaders are seeing lower COVID-19 case numbers; Taiwan, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, and Denmark to name a few.

Want to learn more? Check out this video comparing female and male leadership approaches to COVID-19. We also love this feature by Global News which features Dr. Henry and Dr. Hinshaw, as well as Dr. Theresa Tam, the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada.

Some say female leaders’ success in the pandemic is correlation over causation. As pointed out by HBR and the New York Times, the COVID-19 pandemic could be a historical shift in empowering and trusting female leadership in politics, healthcare, and beyond. And we are here for it.