An Evolutionary Explanation for the Female Leadership Paradox.
Social influence is distributed unequally between males and females in many mammalian societies. In human societies, gender inequality is particularly evident in access to leadership positions. Understanding why women historically and cross-culturally have tended to be under-represented as leaders within human groups and organizations represents a paradox because we lack evidence that women leaders consistently perform worse than men. We also know that women exercise overt influence in collective group-decisions within small-scale human societies, and that female leadership is pervasive in particular contexts across non-human mammalian societies. Here, we offer a transdisciplinary perspective on this female leadership paradox. Synthesis of social science and biological literatures suggests that females and males, on average, differ in why and how they compete for access to political leadership in mixed-gender groups. These differences are influenced by sexual selection and are moderated by socioecological variation across development and, particularly in human societies, by culturally transmitted norms and institutions. The interplay of these forces contributes to the emergence of female leaders within and across species. Furthermore, females may regularly exercise influence on group decisions in less conspicuous ways and different domains than males, and these underappreciated forms of leadership require more study. We offer a comprehensive framework for studying inequality between females and males in access to leadership positions, and we discuss the implications of this approach for understanding the female leadership paradox and for redressing gender inequality in leadership in humans.