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.