Research shows that gender inequality is still a major issue in academic science, yet academic societies may serve as underappreciated and effective avenues for promoting female leadership. That is, society membership is often self-selective, and board positions are elected (with a high turnover compared to institutions)—these characteristics, among others, may thus create an environment conducive to gender equality. We therefore investigate this potential using an information-theoretic approach to quantify gender equality (male:female ratios) in zoology society boards around the world. We compare alternative models to analyze how society characteristics might predict or correlate with the proportion of female leaders, and find that a cultural model, including society age, size of board and whether or not a society had an outward commitment or statement of equality, was the most informative predictor for the gender ratio of society boards and leadership positions. This model was more informative than alternatives that considered, for instance, geographic location, discipline of study or taxonomic focus. While women were more highly represented in society leadership than in institutional academic leadership, this representation was still far short of equal (~30%): we thus also provide a checklist and recommendations for societies to contribute to global gender equality in science.