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First things first, let me say that like many Conservatives, I find identity politics grating.

I dislike being asked to speak on panels because I am female, and believe the Left’s obsession with trying to engineer diversity (Labour’s all-women shortlists, for one) has been a real election loser.

Even so, dare I say I somewhat agreed with Amber Rudd this week when she complained about the lack of women in the Government’s Covid-19 “war cabinet”.

On Twitter she said the imbalance was “extraordinary” and that “excluding women from decision making will lead to bad government”.

In March she raised similar concerns on Radio 4, saying: “I don’t understand why the very senior, capable women, who are in Government, at the top of Government, are not also being included”.

Some of these comments caused uproar, partly because – as aforementioned – the public is so jaded with identity politics.

Many have been recently inundated with ridiculous articles about why Jacinda Ardern proves that female leadership can defeat Covid-19 (never mind population density…).

Others will note the appearances of Priti Patel at press briefings, along with the fact SAGE has 14 women, as well as Munira Mirza’s important role as Director of the Number 10 Policy Unit.

But Rudd directed her words at the “quad” of ministers – Sunak, Gove, Hancock and Raab – who mainly decide the UK’s political direction, along with the Prime Minister.

They are all very impressive men, incidentally, but the general point remains – that it is important to have a gender balance in leadership.

The reason for this is simple: men and women are different and they bring different considerations to the table.

Not only is some of this practical; women around the country, particularly mothers, might appreciate someone sticking up for their needs and concerns.

There’s also a psychological importance to diversity.

Although it nowadays feels blasphemous to say, men and women vary neurologically – and this will invariably affect their response to situations.

Yes there are outliers and exemptions, but among the male and female population there are patterns.

The biggest evidence of this comes not from brain studies (although they are important), but psychological disorders – which vary significantly between the sexes.

Men are much more likely to have ADHD, dyslexia, Tourette’s and autism, and women are generally diagnosed more with emotional disorders.

Autism, as one example, is not the product of socialisation – so its higher prevalence in men supports the thesis of innate, gendered brain differences.

Psychopathy is a particularly interesting phenomenon from a gendered perspective.

Contrary to common assumption, many people have psychopathic traits, like extreme confidence, focus, fearlessness even in stressful situations and the ability to read emotions.

For leaders, these qualities can be extremely adaptive – in measured doses.

Who wouldn’t want to be ambitious, emotionally intelligent and fearless in negotiating with Michel Barnier?

But here’s the point that brings us back to gender and Covid-19 strategy. 

Men tend to have more psychopathic traits and are generally less risk averse than women, who score higher for neuroticism on personality tests.

Perhaps this is why Donald Trump remains one of the most “hawkish” leaders in the Covid-19 battle versus Ardern.

It may also explain why young men are less likely to comply with lockdown.

In a study, researchers found that 150 out of 281 men aged 19-24 had broken the rules to meet with friends, while a fifth had been reprimanded by the police.

They found that these men felt less at risk than others of Covid-19.

One expert quoted in the BBC said “we know that males in general take more risks and evolutionary psychologists have always explained that in terms of males trying to show off.

“They will take more risks and their decision-making processes are shaped by that”.

In essence, it’s quite important to put men and women together when assessing risk.

Both sexes can actually deviate too far on the risk spectrum.

As the sex that scores higher for neuroticism, women might be too cautious.

On the other hand, men can be too risky.

Some have suggested that the financial crisis was one of male overconfidence.

Speaking about it in 2012, one neuroscientist even said testosterone had driven young males to take “ill-calculated risks“.

To reiterate, this isn’t to be deterministic about men and women.

There are outliers and these are merely patterns recognised in psychological research.

It should be said, too, that the male-led Government itself has been very cautious in its approach, especially as some scientists now say that there will be no second peak, and that lockdown went too far.

But the point still stands; gender diversity isn’t just a left-wing preoccupation.

When it comes to policies, it’s actually an important part of getting the balance right.

77 comments for: Rudd is right; we need more women in the Coronavirus “war cabinet”

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