Leadership Style, Gender, and Compassion

Credits©: Leon, Unsplash
There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that leadership styles differ when it comes to what gender that leader might be. The Pew Research Center has put forward evidence that while both men and women agree that some character traits are essential to holders of leadership roles, namely: honesty, intelligence, organisation, and decisiveness. There is divergence on other many other pivotal traits.


According to research, women are more likely to suggest that compassion is a necessary trait (66% of women say this, compared with 47% of men). There is a similar divergence on the belief for the need of innovation in leadership roles (61% of women and 51% of men). Finally, women are more likely to believe ambition is a valued trait for a leader (57% of women and 48% of men).

Based solely on these divergences we can start to question what this might mean for our societies, businesses, and politics if more leadership roles were given to members of the female gender. Yet, at the moment, all we can do is ponder this question. Why? Because this is something that cannot be fully realised until women in society are encouraged and given a fairer chance at reaching these positions.

According to a report from the European Parliament on women in leadership positions, Europe is still at least 60 years away from achieving gender equality on this matter. The European Commission announced that in 2019 women accounted for only 27.8% of board members across the EU’s largest publicly listed companies. Despite being 51% of the EU’s population, women constitute only 15% of the 27 EU countries’ heads of government, and while slightly better, women still just account for 39.5% of the EU parliament.

How do we know if we have the most effective leaders in society, and further, how do we know if we have the most effective leadership styles if most of our top positions are occupied predominantly by members of the same gender? The answer to that question is: we don’t.

A recent story which could draw parallels to this research into different leadership styles and gender is that of Bumble and its CEO – Whitney Wolfe Herd. In an effort to allay the collective burnout experienced by Bumble’s employees, Ms. Herd took the decision to give everyone one paid week off to recharge. While no definite conclusions can be made, what can be said is that Herd’s decision is an outlier in the business world, and for that reason it has become newsworthy. In terms of leadership styles, this one act could help to influence other business leaders to follow suit, or even embolden them take different decisions in tackling the pervasive consequences of burnout.

This particular story of burnout finds its origin world of online working, which has been the recent legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic. Another consequence of COVID-19 which can relate to this account of leadership style and gender, is the effect of the pandemic on women in work. According to the European Parliament, 84% of women aged 15-64 in the EU work in services, including the main COVID-hit sectors. On top of this, COVID could push an additional 47 million women and girls below the poverty line worldwide.

Credits©: Dave Lowe

This is a crushing blow to an already unequal and disproportionate story of the relation between gender and leadership roles. Leadership and bold decisions will be necessary to build back from COVID-19, but we must also make sure that our chosen leaders can come from all walks of life, including that of different genders. In building back, we must make sure that we learn from this inequality and empower women across the world to aspire to and achieve leadership roles, while also channelling the different leadership styles which might just provide the solutions to our most systemic issues.


Paul Angelo-Deans
Administration Intern, JESC


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