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Women Are Proving to Be the Best Leaders During This Pandemic—Why I’m Not Surprised

Gretchen Whitmer, governor of my home state of Michigan, has a crisis on her hands. Michigan has the fourth-highest number of cases of the coronavirus in the country, and the third-highest number of deaths. She's been responding with quick, decisive action and empathetic communication since the beginning, and in the last few days, she's extended a stay-at-home order, banned all gatherings, and stopped residents from traveling to in-state vacation homes. It's working, say experts: there are "early signs of a plateau," especially in hard-hit metro Detroit.


Her colleague Brian Kemp, governor of Georgia, a state close in size to Michigan—they have 10.6 million residents compared to Michigan's 10 million—has been acting differently. Though his state has the 11th-highest number of cases, Kemp refused to shut down Georgia's beaches or issue a stay-at-home order until April 3, after 36 states had already done so. And now the state is struggling with insufficient test kits on hand (only 5,000, a "tiny fraction" of what experts say they'll need) and climbing death rates.

Those differences in leadership aren't just stylistic. They will directly impact the number of lives lost to the coronavirus. Which got me thinking: why is it that women leaders are doing better than their male counterparts?

I'm not the first to ask this question. Forbes contributor Avivah Wittenberg-Cox wrote a great piece highlighting the traits that women leaders are showcasing in this crisis and how their countries are better for it. Her globally-focused examples included Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel's honesty and acceptance of the science; Taiwan's president Tsai Ing-wen's decisive action to stop the spread of the virus; New Zealand's prime minister Jacinda Ardern's early and clear decision-making; Iceland's prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir's work to embrace tech to track infections; and Norway's prime minister Erna Solberg's decision to speak directly and empathetically to her nation's children in press conferences that normalized anxiety and fear.

Wittenberg-Cox is right that part of these women's success is due to leadership traits that they're showcasing. I'm not sure I agree with her that those traits are inherently female ones.

I believe that leading with empathy or listening to people who are smarter than you are things anyone can do, not just women. That being said, I do see her point that those traits aren't found in many of the hyper-aggressive leaders cluttering the world stage. Whether you're in the U.S. or the UK or Israel or India, much of the world is currently led by male politicians who place bravado over brains.

I think women leaders are doing so well at addressing the pandemic because women leaders can't get to be leaders without having those brains. Across the board, women heads of state are supremely qualified. They have a harder time making it to the top, and when they get there, they have reserves of competence to call on. Before gaining access to power, they have to be more qualified and perform better than their male counterparts to even be considered for leadership, make it through rounds and rounds of media scrutiny on everything from their political outlook to their outfits, and win over an electorate who (still, even in 2020) is more used to seeing women as caretakers than commanders-in-chief.

I'd like to take a moment to celebrate some women who have made it through that gauntlet, taken on positions of leadership, and been putting their communities first throughout this crisis. I'm as big a fan of Merkel and Ardern as anyone, but I want to shout out some lesser-known leaders, too, who also happen to be women of color, who get even less recognition than their white counterparts:

  • London Breed, the mayor of San Francisco, who declared a state of emergency in February, when Trump was still claiming the virus was a hoax. Her early, decisive leadership led to the Bay Area successfully flattening its curve earlier and with less casualties than other major cities.
  • Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago and meme star, who has personally been driving around and breaking up gatherings that are in violation of the city's stay-at-home order, publicizing the increased risk of domestic violence and partnering with rideshare services to offer resources to people in dangerous domestic situations, and speaking out about the racial injustice in coronavirus infection and death rates.
  • Wanda Vazquez, the governor of Puerto Rico, who led the first shutdown of nonessential businesses, beating California, the first state on the mainland to do so, by four days. She had to be decisive—Puerto Rico is still suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the scandal around the forcing out of previous governor Ricardo Rosselló due to corruption, and continued solvency issues, and couldn't handle the strain of a full-blown pandemic—and so far, it's working: Puerto Rico's case numbers have stayed lower than those of 42 other states and territories.

We've known for a while now that diverse teams are better, more productive ones, and that bringing together all types of people with different experiences and identities leads to the most successful solutions. Which is why I worry when I see a picture like this one that shows that the team the U.S. first assembled to address the coronavirus was entirely male and almost entirely white:


That's not good enough.

A leader making space for children to be heard, stepping aside from the podium to let the experts talk, or refraining from placing blame in favor of creating solutions shouldn't feel so refreshing. Those ideas should exist in every government. We need them now more than ever.

Elect women.

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How These Companies Are Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

According to a recent study, anti-Asian hate crimes have risen 150% since the pandemic started. But these acts of violence are not new — they are part of a much larger history of anti-Asian racism and violence in the U.S.

That makes celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (which was named a month-long celebration in May by Congress in 1992 "to coincide with two important milestones in Asian/Pacific American history: the arrival in the United States of the first Japanese immigrants on May 7, 1843 and contributions of Chinese workers to the building of the transcontinental railroad, completed May 10, 1869") this year all the more important.

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5 Things All Product Managers Should Do for Their Engineers (And Vice Versa)

Tips from SeatGeek's Anuja Chavan

When Anuja Chaven turns on a fan in her house in Jersey City, she can't help but think about how every piece of it works.

"There are an extensive amount of things that have to go perfectly at the same time," says the former engineer (and current product manager at live event ticketing platform SeatGeek).

It was that interest in understanding how things actually worked that drove Anuja to study engineering—first electrical, during her undergrad in India, and then computer science, during her master's program in the U.S.

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Pluralsight

The Secrets to Balancing Work and Family Life

3 Pieces of Advice from Working Moms at Pluralsight

Being fully committed to work and family is a challenge that many working parents have to take on. It can be exhausting and thankless pursuing a fulfilling full-time career, while taking an active role as a parent. Achieving a healthy balance can help keep you motivated and productive at work, while allowing you to be fully present when you're home.

We recently chatted with working moms at technology skills platform, Pluralsight, about their best advice for striking that elusive work-life balance. Here were their key points:

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Plex

How to Make the Most of Being on a Growing Team: 3 Tips from Plex’s Adriana Bosinceanu

When the startup Adriana Bosinceanu was working for got acquired, things changed fast.

She went from being one of eight engineers on a small team building a streaming service to joining a company that was five times larger and had a much bigger scope.

That company was Plex, where Adriana has been working remotely as a software engineer for the last four and a half years.

As her team grew from two people to ten, Adriana decided to lean into the opportunity to grow; along the way, she found herself deepening her technical skills, her self-confidence, and her relationships. We sat down with Adriana to learn exactly how she did that, and to hear the tips she has for other engineers experiencing growth opportunities on their team.

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What These Companies Are Doing to Celebrate Juneteenth 2021

*Updated on June 17th, 2021 to reflect Juneteenth officially being named a Federal Holiday in the U.S.*

Juneteenth has been celebrated by African-Americans since the late 1800s, but in recent years (particularly in response to global protests over police brutality and the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans), there has been a surge in interest in the day that celebrates freedom.

Before it became an official federal holiday, many businesses shifted toward marking June 19th as an annual company holiday, creating different initiatives around the holiday and offering employees opportunities to learn, reflect, and take action toward racial equality.

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