Smith, J., Ortiz, C. Buhbe, M. & Van Vugt, M. (2018). Obstacles and opportunities for female leadership in mammalian societies: A comparative perspective. The Leadership Quarterly.

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Women remain universally underrepresented in the top leadership positions. A comparative evolutionary framework may offer new insights into the value of and potential barriers to female leadership. Here we define leaders as individuals who impose a disproportional influence on the collective behaviors of group members. We reviewed data for 76 social species of non-human mammals to reveal the circumstances favoring female leadership and species exhibiting female-biased leadership in two or more contexts (e.g., collective movements, group foraging, conflict resolution within groups, or conflicts between groups). Although rare across the lineage, female-biased leadership is pervasive in killer whales, lions, spotted hyenas, bonobos, lemurs, and elephants; leaders emerge without coercion and followers benefit from the social support and/or ecological knowledge from elder females. Our synthesis elucidates barriers to female leadership, but also reveals that traditional operationalizations of leadership are themselves male-biased. We therefore propose a new agenda for assessing the overlooked ways that females exert influence in groups.


Evolutionary biology
Female leadership

Balliet, D., Li, N., Macfarlan, S., & Van Vugt, M. (2011). Sex differences in cooperation: A meta-analytic review of social dilemmas. Psychological Bulletin.


Van Hooff, J. C., Crawford, H., Van Vugt, M. (2010). The wandering mind of men: ERP evidence for gender differences in attention bias towards attractive opposite sex faces. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. doi:10.1093/scan/nsq066


Van Vugt, M., De Cremer, D., & Janssen, D. (2007). Gender differences in competition and cooperation: The male warrior hypothesis. Psychological Science. 18, 19-23.



D. D. P. Johnson & Van Vugt, M. (2009). A history of war: The role of intergroup conflict in sex differences in aggression. Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

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