Female Leadership: A Tool for Sustainable Development

Several studies emphasize the importance of having diverse leaders, racially and by gender, for the development of nations. The variety in experiences and viewpoints fosters the opening of ideas, breaks routines, and motivates those who are in minority – even if they are usually a majority as in the case of women.

Training for leadership begins early: within families and at school. Progress in the education of girls has been remarkable in recent decades but often not enough to give rise to successful female leaders. The problem is that it is not enough for these girls to go to school, as they still remain subject to cultural pressure that does not allow them to reach their full potential. The classic example is that girls should not choose mathematical or scientific disciplines, but humanities – to be better prepared for becoming mothers and support the studies of their children, or because there are allegedly genetic differences that make boys more likely to study mathematics, and girls more likely to study literature.

Recent studies suggest that gender differences in characteristics such as competitiveness are not innate, but the product of cultural differences. Work by Professor John List of the University of Chicago and co-authors compared a patriarchal tribe in India, where men occupy most positions of power, with a matriarchal tribe in Tanzania, where leadership positions are typically assumed by women. And the results show that in the matriarchal tribe of Tanzania, women are much more competitive than men, while the opposite is observed in the patriarchal tribe. Based on this evidence, it seems that female leadership can have strong transformative effects. In moderate doses, it may indeed contribute to achieve a gender equilibrium that not only promotes equality, but also the productivity and growth of enterprises and of the overall economy.

The important question is then how to find women who are good leaders. And the answer seems to be that increasing the number of women in leadership positions is the way to follow. In another study, by Professor Esther Duflo of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and co-authors, it is shown that having more women in leadership positions in companies directly affects the choices that girls make in school: when there are examples of female leaders, the girls come to believe that they can be the leaders of the future and aspire to be them. These leadership aspirations are sufficient for there to be more prepared women to help society in taking leadership positions.

Mozambique is a case of hope on several fronts. Hope begins with the celebration of the Day of the Mozambican Woman. This celebration not only explicitly recognizes the key role that women have played in the Mozambican society, but also serves to motivate women in Mozambique to take important positions, and the girls to prepare themselves for women leadership. And indeed, Mozambican politics and businesses have had more women in leadership positions than many so-called developed countries in the Western world – like the United States or France, who have never had a female president or prime minister, unlike Mozambique.

Female leadership is thus an instrument for sustainable development that needs to be deepened in most of the world, but in practice it seems rather within reach for the Mozambican people – and indeed more so than for other societies, even more developed ones.


Written by Cátia Batista – published in Exame – Moçambique, March 2016 edition.