Empowerment

Working on a hunch, researchers uncover why diverse nations appear to thrive under female leadership

Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

A new report from Harvard Business Review makes a strong case for the economic importance of female leadership — particularly in countries with ethnically diverse populations. In fact, according to HBR’s report, women leaders in diverse countries vastly outperformed their male counterparts as they led their economies to an average of 5.4 percent GDP growth in the year following their assumption of power. Male leaders in diverse countries, by comparison, managed an average GDP growth of just 1.1 percent for male leaders.

In many cases, the report found, these economic gains were closely tied to women leaders’ efforts at economically empowering historically marginalized groups. In Liberia, for instance, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf helped overcome the country’s difficult history of ethnic conflict by achieving gender equity in her cabinet and constructing a government with representatives proportionate to each ethnic group’s size — a difficult task, especially given that Liberia boasts more than a dozen prominent ethnic groups. Under Johnson Sirleaf, the country’s GDP grew at an average of 4 percent each year from 2006 through the end of 2010. Her predecessor, President Charles Taylor, was infamous for helping members of his own ethnic group, the Krahns, seize resources for themselves at the expense of other tribes. During his tenure from 1986-1990, Liberia’s GDP grew at a 1 percent rate — and the country was ultimately engulfed in rebellion.

Current Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen, the first woman to hold the position, made similar efforts to reach out to her country’s largest minority groups and to limit the advantages given by prior governments to the country’s majority ethnic group, the Hans. By empowering a country’s minority groups, Harvard Business Review found, leaders were able to prevent the stunted economic growth that results from ethnic conflict, systemic bias and discrimination. And women leaders, they concluded, appear to be the ones best equipped to lead the way.

Read the full story at Harvard Business Review.

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