In 2023, Leadership Circle announced a new partnership with Unlocking Eve, an organization dedicated to bringing an integrated and inclusive approach to health care leadership to secure the health of the world’s citizens. In today’s post, contributors and Unlocking Eve founders Eva McLellan and Kaye Vitug pose the question: If women leaders are saving more lives, what can we learn from them?


Despite countless studies on the advantages of women in leadership, little has been done to address the chasm between men and women decision-makers in the last 10 years. The World Economic Forum estimates it will take 257 years to close the gender gap at work, but when women leaders are statistically more effective in life-saving roles, we can’t wait that long.  After two years of dedicated research, the Unlocking Eve Foundation reveals a profound truth about women leaders in health care. Embracing an integrated leadership model not only harnesses their life-saving traits but also charts a strategic course to address our critical leadership challenges of our time. The best part? These traits transcend gender—it’s all about leadership approach, and it’s accessible to everyone.

In a medical study published in JAMA Surgery last August, a team of Canadian and Swedish doctors reviewed more than 1 million patient records and found that patients treated by male surgeons were 25% more likely to die in the months after surgery than those treated by female surgeons. That grim figure becomes even more harrowing when placed alongside the World Health Organization’s data that 70% of hospital staff are women, but only 25% are represented at the most senior levels of leadership.

This isn’t the only example where an increase in women leaders has resulted in an increase in saved lives. A study published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research and the World Economic Forum found that at the start of COVID-19, countries with women in positions of leadership suffered six times fewer confirmed deaths from COVID-19 than countries with governments led by men. After analyzing 194 countries, researchers found that women-led governments were more effective and rapid at flattening the epidemic’s curve. It begs the question: If women leaders are saving more lives, what can we learn from women leaders?

Most industries still rely on traditional leadership models that fail to address the ever-growing complexity we encounter today. Of the many lessons we continue to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic, we can’t ignore the growing need for institutions to become more nimble to address unforeseen crises. It is clear now that traditional, masculine-oriented leadership models provide inadequate guidance in the face of the complex challenges posed by global transformations.

Implementing a hiring quota won’t fix this, especially one that seeks token gestures rather than investing in women and men and leveraging both their leadership skills for better insight and effective action. Adopting this integrated leadership model can address the problem head-on and has proven business outcomes. If organizations focus on what has historically made women leaders successful, they can apply these qualities and unlock leadership potential across the company, regardless of gender.

Integrated leadership is a holistic approach to leadership training that embraces both sides of what are seen as masculine and feminine qualities: directive and relational, decisive and reflective, autonomous and collaborative, and rational and intuitive. Integrated leadership recognizes these dichotomous traits as inherent in all leaders, but not always encouraged in both men and women. This approach unlocks the combined potential to achieve positive outcomes by leveraging both masculine and feminine leadership traits. Communal leadership qualities, especially in the wake of a pandemic, have been exceptionally effective at addressing health care needs but are some of the least encouraged traits in masculine-focused leadership.

We must apply this lens in the way we select, reward, and advance leaders based on their qualities, which we know intimately and positively correlate with business and health care outcomes. To do that successfully, we need to recognize that both men and women possess autonomous and communal attributes that can make them powerful leaders, and the most effective leaders will apply both qualities in their roles.

The health care landscape will look increasingly bleak if the next 10 years look like the past decade of clinging to failed leadership models. Leadership is not a skill we’re born with, but a teachable skill, and many leaders are only being taught half of those skills. What gives us optimism is that there is a better approach to leading, and these qualities are accessible to all, not just women. But if we don’t shift the leadership paradigm not only to integrate but also to celebrate communal qualities, women will continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions. In a rapidly shape-shifting world, the stakes are higher to have effective leaders at the helm. We can’t afford to miss out on the benefits of not only diverse perspectives but life-saving experiences.

About Unlocking Eve
The Unlocking Eve Foundation, co-founded by health care leaders Eva McLellan and Kaye Vitug, was born from the unwavering belief that enabling new models of balanced and integrated leadership is essential to transform health care and heal the world. At the heart of their work is a dual mission: to advance a new profile of leadership excellence and to accelerate women’s advancement in health care leadership by 50%. Unlocking Eve aims to impact 100 million lives by 2030 through thought leadership, compelling research, transformative tools, and high-impact partnerships for system change. Explore more about Unlocking Eve at

Eva McLellan & Kaye Vitag

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