Significance of strong female leadership in a time of crisis

Written by Margie Grace

Amidst the current COVID-19 global pandemic underway, leadership teams in business and government have had to adapt to force majeure. More than ever, individuals are leaning on and looking to official governments for guidance in these unprecedented times. Governments have had to quickly assemble teams of experts who can advise on appropriate action. Within Canada, we have had some key female leaders who have emerged through this crisis as voices of reason and expertise in this time. Before I highlight some of those intelligent women, let’s review the current prevalence women in leadership, in numbers, throughout these past few years for some context in why this is significant:

  • Only 4.9% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies were women, as of June 2019.1 In fact, in 2015, it was even reported by the New York Times that there were more men named John running large companies than women.2
  • In politics, as of March 2020, roughly 10% of all heads of government or state are female.3 24.3 % of all national parliamentarians were women as of February 2019.4
  • In Canada, women make up almost half (47.7%) of the workforce, however, they occupy less than 20% of all leadership roles.5
  • Women have proven to, on average, outperform men on most leadership skills (17 out of 19), according to a study done by Harvard in 2018.6

This small sample of statistics, and many others out there will remind you, that women are given a mere fraction of the leadership positions in comparison to men, despite being just as capable. The path to positions of leadership for women is not as equally accessible as the path for men, which is why it is important to recognize when women are elected to positions of power.

What does female representation look like in health care?

According to the UN, globally, women make up 70 per cent of workers in the health and social sector.7 In Canada, women have made up more than half of med school graduates every year since 1995, however a proportionate distribution of leadership positions has not yet been seen.8

Here are three Canadian women to recognize that are currently leading our nation through the pandemic:

1.       Dr. Theresa Tam – Chief Public Health Officer

Dr. Theresa Tam was named Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer in 2017. She is a physician with expertise in immunization, infectious disease, emergency preparedness and global health security. Dr. Tam has held several senior leadership positions at the Public Health Agency of Canada and previously played a leadership role in Canada’s response to SARS, influenza H1N1, and Ebola. Throughout this crisis, Canada has looked to Tam for those daily updates from Ottawa.9

2.       Patty Hadju – Federal Minister of Health

Hadju is on the Covid Cabinet Committee, and we have also seen her voice of reason from Ottawa press conferences throughout this pandemic. She was initially elected to parliament in 2015 and was appointed to serve on the federal cabinet. She held a number of roles before becoming Minister of Health in November 2019. Minister Hajdu previously worked in public health and focused on drug policy, youth development and homelessness. Prior to her election, she ran the largest homeless shelter in Northwestern Ontario.10

3.       Dr. Deena Hinshaw – Alberta Chief Medical Officer

Hinshaw has been praised for her trustworthy, calm, and professional delivery of information throughout her ongoing series of press health updates, even to a degree where it has inspired a popular Facebook fan page selling t-shirts with her portrait. Previous to this role, she has held other senior roles throughout Alberta Health Services, including in the area of public health surveillance and infrastructure. 11

And these are just to name a few. As a society, it is important to note outstanding female leadership when it takes place and continue championing this progression by promoting strong women who excel in their fields.


  1. Research: Women Score Higher Than Men in Most Leadership Skills
  2. #ChangePays: There Were More Male CEOs Named John than Female CEOs
  3. Calculation using numbers from source below. 19 leaders/ 195 countries.
  4. International Women’s Day 2020: First and second-time female Heads of State or Government demand more women in leadership
  5. Gender, diversity and inclusion statistics
  6. Research: Women Score Higher Than Men in Most Leadership Skills
  7. Paying attention to women’s needs and leadership will strengthen COVID-19 response
  8. Rise of women in medicine not matched by leadership roles
  9. Chief Public Health Officer of Canada – Biography
  10. » Biography
  11. Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash