Leadership lessons from the COVID crisis
In our patriarchal world ‘women’s roles’ and ‘female attributes’ tend to be clustered under some form of ‘caring’ bracket. The ‘caring economy’ – from healthcare, to social care, to childcare – is either seen as a free resource to be exploited, or a cost to be managed (and usually cut). Those who work in the care sector (mostly women) are amongst the lowest paid and least valued in our society.
But what if our whole economy was shaped around caring? Caring for each other. Caring for the vulnerable and oppressed. Caring for the wellbeing of the young and the old. Caring for the places we build our communities and for the planet we live on?
I have written before about the role of female leadership in the emerging wellbeing economy movement. Most of the really bold, radical approaches to delivering a new economic vision are being led by women – in politics, business and civil society.
When I think of what I value in female-led teams or groups I do think of caring but I also think of many other ‘c’ words – collaborative, cooperative, compassionate, curious, conversational, creative, courageous. These are words rarely associated with our current leadership paradigm. Another range of ‘c’ words come to mind in the cutthroat competitive world of casino capitalism.
‘Most of the bold, radical approaches to delivering a new economic vision are being led by women’
In a care-full economy a home would be a right not a luxury or investment for spiralling future profit. The household and all that it provides for current and future generations, would be supported, invested in and valued for its central part in our lives.
Our collective commons would be just that, collectively owned and generously shared – ideas not trademarked but built upon, nature not trashed but cherished, diversity a strength not a threat, culture not a cost but an investment, community assets not sold off but supported.
This caring economy is RE-productive not merely productive. People and the planet no longer disposable items on a consumer production line, but living, breathing, growing and dying beings to be fed, sheltered, nurtured and supported to thrive.
If care and reproduction have become branded as low value female attributes, we urgently need to reclaim them. They are principles on which we can build a new economy, a new society, a new normal.
That call for a new normal has grown to a roar in the light of the current pandemic, and it there we are seeing signs that a female approach to leadership can reap benefits beyond anything we have perhaps previously seen. The extraordinarily different responses to and impact of Covid 19 in countries and communities around the globe provide leadership lessons that leaders of every gender and creed need to learn from fast.
In a world where just 19 out of 93 nation states are led by women, a remarkable number of them have fared well through the Covid crisis. Meanwhile countries famously led by the most macho of all male leaders are jostling for position at the top of the tragic death count league tables.
This is not just a problem in national governments. Only a shocking 4% of local government leaders in the UK are female and only six of the FTSE 100 companies are led by women.
Mine is not just a call for more female leaders to be given a platform and power. It is a call for courageous leaders of all genders, creeds and cultures to learn from and embrace the very attributes that have for too long been dismissed. Compassion, collaboration, curiosity, humility, and yes – care.
Casino capitalism and the competitive cutthroat version of leadership it espouses and promotes, has cost us all dear. It costs us our dignity, our freedom, our compassion, our trust, our communities and in many cases our lives. These are not costs worth paying. We need to build a care-full economy, based on growing not wealth for the few but the wellbeing of all.
For that we need pioneering leaders in every sector and community to be courageous enough to care and to show that care by delivering a new approach to policy and practice across our society.
Co-founder and Chief Executive of Centre for Thriving Places
If you are such a pioneering leader in any sector in the UK, the Centre for Thriving Places can help you co-create a wellbeing economy where you are. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who prioritised a kindness and community based approach during lockdown, shares a child’s free school lunch at the Flaxmere Primary School in Hawke’s Bay, 20 February 2020 Hawke’s Bay Today: Photograph by Paul Taylor