Former NZ PM Helen Clark Praises Female Leaders: Better in Coronavirus Crisis ‘Because They Lack Such Big Egos’

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who heads the U.N. Development Program, speaks at a news conference after she addressed U.N. General Assembly members about her candidacy for U.N. Secretary General, Thursday April 14, 2016 at U.N. headquarters. The United Nations is taking a historic step to open up …
AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark on Friday applauded what she saw as the universal success of female leaders in tackling the Chinese coronavirus, praising their “ability to listen” and “having less ego” than their male counterparts as reasons for their achievements.

In a global interview for the BBC, Clark said: “My observation would be that on average women leaders have done rather better than men.”

She described current New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership in the crisis as “incredible” in “very, very challenging circumstances.” She also praised Angela Merkel in Germany and Erna Solberg in Norway as evidence of her gender-based theory of female leadership superiority in the current global crisis.

And while the left-wing former NZ Labour Party leader Clark pointed to some male leaders who have responded well, such as president of South Korea Moon Jae-in, she added:

In general, women have a leadership style which is more lateral rather than top down, more consultative, more inclined to listening, not such big egos, and will take advice.

She said the skills of the current group of women leaders were empathy and communication with the public, which was vital because the best strategy won’t succeed if the public don’t buy into it.

This is not the first time Clark, who led New Zealand from 1999 to 2008,  has sung the praises of Adern.

Last month in the Atlantic magazine she said people feel Ardern “doesn’t preach at them; she’s standing with them.” Clark added:

They may even think… Well, I don’t quite understand why [the government] did that, but I know she’s got our back. There’s a high level of trust and confidence in her because of that empathy.

She is “a communicator,” Clark said, noting Ardern – who worked on then UK prime minister Tony Blair’s staff – earned a degree in communications. “This is the kind of crisis which will make or break leaders. And this will make Jacinda.”

The former three-term prime minister has also used other outlets to air her views on what she sees as the primacy of female leadership:

Although Clark, who was passed over in 2016 in her bid to become secretary-general of the United Nations, was happy to point to female successes in fighting the coronavirus, she did neglect to mention one outstanding leader in the same cohort who happened to be male.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has helped his country lead the world in its coronavirus response while at the same time calling for China to be held to account:

Australia, which has a population of around 25 million people, has reported 6,762 confirmed cases. Just 92 of those cases have resulted in death, and 5,720 have since recovered, according to the federal health authority.

Success in taming the outbreak started with early measures to bar entry from high-risk areas.

On February 1, Australia joined the United States in closing its borders to all foreign visitors who had recently been in China, where the outbreak was first reported in November last year.

As the virus spread and outbreaks flared beyond China, Australia barred entries from Iran, South Korea and Italy in early March, before closing its borders completely to all non-citizens and non-residents on March 19.

The decision by conservative coalition leader Morrison to shut down borders and introduce widespread testing proved crucial in helping Australia deliver one of the most effective responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

Follow Simon Kent on Twitter: or e-mail to:


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.