Purpose: The specific aims for this paper are to deal with the conflicting research findings associated with the factors that influence the success of female leaders while using race (African American) as the core variable in this paper. Design/methodology/approach: A literature review was done. An empirical survey was designed and pre-tested for face validity, relevance, clarity of items, and ease of administration and response. Two versions of the survey were pilot tested with two focus groups. Findings: The analysis centered on racial differences between Caucasian and African American female leaders. Chi-square test was used for the primary original data, and t-test for the mean subgroup scores obtained in Likert-type items. The primary finding is that while Caucasian women and African American women face similar gender obstacles, the factors that determine their paths to success differ significantly. Research limitations/implications: The present study provides an excellent starting point to infuse race into the gender equation model regarding female leaders in organizational enterprises. As the world of work becomes more gender and racially diverse, the implications are very important given the status of female leadership in a civil society. Originality/value: The newness and novelty of this paper is the comparison between Caucasian and African American women leaders in the southern part of the USA. The value of this paper is the focus on the demographics of change given the history of gender and racial hostility in organizational life for this segment of the population. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.