27 September 2023

Female frontline: How COVID-19 is highlighting women’s leadership

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Erin Loos Cutraro* says women are on the frontlines leading us through the pandemic, and we must continue to fight to have them elected to public office.

Women lead from wherever they are, and that’s never been truer than during the COVID-19 crisis.

Women are on the frontlines.

They are the majority of critical healthcare workers, nurses, and aides.

Women make up the majority of essential but low-paid workers serving in our supermarkets.

And women, like always, are taking on the brunt of work at home to serve the needs of our children and households.

Women are leading the communal response.

The stories of resilience are countless: the little free libraries turned into little free supermarkets.

The women and girls crafting thousands upon thousands of last-line-of-defence face masks.

The female bakers and chefs, caterers and florists, small business owners, and teachers offering resources to in-need neighbours, even if it impacts their ability to sustain beyond the crisis.

And while massively underrepresented, women are also leading from elected office.

As we look to the few examples of female world leaders, this is the exact moment when we need women’s leadership more than ever in order to survive.

For all the good women across the globe are doing, our response to this crisis risks becoming a rhythm that we collectively normalise.

How long can we live in this fight-or-flight mode?

Women can’t continue cleaning up other people’s messes, we need them in places to prevent the mess from ever happening.

The women who are getting things done during this pandemic — the doctors, nurses, part-time workers, those in the gig economy — are the exact women we want and need to represent us.

Those closest to the pain — those who act in crisis and keep charging forward — understand the needs of ordinary citizens more than anyone else.

And if we don’t prioritise women’s leadership, our society will pay a price.

The research is very clear on this: Women step up to run for office when they know no-one is coming to save them.

Last month, She Should Run saw a surge of interest from women in the US stepping up to explore a run for office when it became clear that once again no woman would be at the top of the ticket.

In 2018, women ran for office in record numbers in response to Donald Trump’s 2016 election.

The COVID-19 crisis — and America’s slow and flat-footed response to it — represents another opportunity for women to harness their fury, and their competence, to lead where leadership is currently lacking.

It’s the newest opportunity for people to rally around get-it-done women candidates — in the US and elsewhere.

With COVID-19, we are at a profound crossroads.

The pandemic is highlighting and exacerbating every socio, political, and racial fault line that threatens the livelihood of millions of global citizens — particularly women, who lack true representation in rooms and halls of power at this critical time.

Building a healthy democracy cannot be put on hold while we are in survival mode.

We can’t sacrifice the micro for the macro, or the macro for the micro.

Doing so will only put us back decades in our ultimate goal to build governments that look like the people they represent.

We cannot press pause on building the political pipeline — we need more women to run for office, and we’re going to need to be organised, mobilised, and ready to run when social distancing is over.

For now, we have to lead from where we are, as we will.

Our eyes will be on our current leaders and how they are handling this crisis.

And come election time, we’ll vote on those who represent the voices we believe can best carry us forward.

But the reality is that our ballots won’t look like our communities.

If we want to build a very different future, it is at this moment that we have to recognise the incredible women who are leading in crisis in all different ways — and encourage them to run for office.

* Erin Loos Cutraro is the founder and CEO of She Should Run. She tweets at @erinlooscutraro. Her website is sheshouldrun.org.

This article first appeared at www.fastcompany.com.

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