Females, Leadership & Other Mammals

It is well-known that, in the human species, there are less females than males in leadership roles. But, what about other mammals?

Females are rarely leader of the pack in the animal kingdom, with only 6 of the 76 non-human mammal species that exhibit leadership having females in charge during conflict, foraging or travel.

This is the conclusion of a study into female leadership among mammals carried out by Jennifer Smith and colleagues at Mills College in California, USA.

The females of these seven species fit a certain definition of leadership, having one or more of the following traits:

  • Physically stronger than males;
  • Long-lived or spend most of their life in one area;
  • They form strong bonds with other females.

They influence their society’s structure through:

  • Food collection;
  • Fighting wars;
  • Deciding where their group moves; and
  • Holding local knowledge useful for finding food.

The six species in Smith’s study include:

  1. African lion;
  2. Spotted hyena;
  3. African elephant;
  4. Orca;
  5. Lemurs; and
  6. Bonobo.


Smith, J.E., Ortiza, C.A., Buhbea, M.T. & Vugt, M. (2018) Obstacles and opportunities for female leadership in mammalian societies: A comparative perspective. The Leadership Quarterly. Available online 26 September 2018. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2018.09.005.


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