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Sierra Bein is a digital editor at The Globe and Mail
When I finally realized the new coronavirus was a serious threat, right here in my home city of Toronto, I’d already been reading about it for weeks. But it had always felt like a distant reality, one with devastating effects, but one that still didn’t affect me personally.
That changed, of course, and I found myself seeking out reliable information with a new vigour, both as a digital editor at The Globe and a concerned citizen. Soon, I noticed something I suspect many others have as well: Many of Canada’s health care leaders are women. And in a world where women are routinely criticized for being too emotional, and where too few are in leadership positions in the first place, our country is seeing something remarkable: women making a huge impression for leading with humanity, vulnerability and compassion (as well as expertise and transparency) through the greatest crisis of our time. (As Sadiya Ansari reports in Policy Options, “Of the 14 provincial and national chief medical officers and public health officers, 7 are women including Canada’s chief medical officer, Dr. Theresa Tam. There are also women in public health officer roles in major cities such as Toronto and Ottawa.”)
A lot of the coronavirus news has been hard to digest. What seems like a lifetime ago, my heart sank as I listened to B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, ask the public – even members of the same family – to keep their distance from each other. She was on the verge of tears as she shared these difficult directives. Her emotions got the gravity of the situation across, and they also got everyone’s attention (including The Globe’s André Picard, who had this to say: “The welling tears did not show Dr. Henry to be weak. Quite the opposite. It was a rare display of humanity by a public official …”)
I had never heard of Dr. Henry, but now I hear her voice in my head every time I venture outside of my house.
I’m also making a point of remembering the example set by Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer, when she publicly said she was going to take “some time off” as part of her self care during the crisis. In a piece for The Globe, Stephen Legault asks, what can people working to stop the spread of COVID-19 learn from Hinshaw? “Besides how to provide a calm, steady and reassuring voice in a time of global crisis, we can learn how to take care of ourselves when we’re trying to save the world.”
When it comes to demonstrating compassion, I was struck by Northwest Territories’ Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola’s reaction to protecting individuals in small communities from being shamed for contracting COVID-19. If people are scared of being judged for getting the disease, they might not get the treatment they need, she reasoned. “If you react with compassion, it will help other people come forward," Kandola said.
I also identified with Newfoundland and Labrador Chief Medical Officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald who, when asked how she was coping, replied candidly,“It’s a bit overwhelming. Thank you for asking.” I don’t think her display of vulnerability undermined her authority, though I wonder if I’d be asking myself that question if Fitzgerald were a man.
And as Ansari wrote for Policy Options, Prince Edward Island’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, has emerged as a celebrity of sorts for her exemplary leadership during the pandemic, with kids in PEI dressing up as the doctor during a superhero-themed virtual hangout. If that’s not human connection, what is?
These women are effective leaders because they’re getting the job done and they’re being real people while they do it. They are providing us with a heavy dose of humanity and empathy, which I think we could all use right now. Their work should be remembered the next time anyone questions a woman’s ability to lead.
What else we’re thinking about:
I know a lot of April babies, including me. Which means there are amany birthdays that will be missed or overlooked this month while gatherings are still not allowed across Canada. Ordering gifts online (unless you did so a whole month in advance) is not the best option anymore. So I have been donating money in my friends’ names to foundations helping fight COVID-19 in vulnerable communities. It’s pretty great because it’s instant, most charities can send an e-card directly to your friend’s inbox and they also get to feel like they’ve done something good. For those who are financially strained, you can choose whatever amount you feel comfortable giving. (To any of my friends reading this, yes, you can take this as a hint.)
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