The percentage of African American women in leadership roles has not increased as significantly as women in general. This exploratory qualitative study examined African American leaders’ perceptions of their common challenges as they advance to executive leadership and their personal capabilities required to attain leadership. The intent was to understand the factors that contribute to their rise to executive leadership. Forty-three African American leaders secured through universities, sorority, church, and work in greater Los Angeles met the study’s criteria to be at the senior management level for more than two years, have over five direct reports, and born in the United States of America. The researcher followed Trochim’s steps, creating and pilot- testing the protocol for a long interview. Seventy percent were married, and 30% were either single, divorced or widowed. All women stated that they worked more than 40 hours a week, and 95% had children. These leaders, all college educated, represented a wide variety of industries including law, military, healthcare, education, and finance. After following Moustakas’ coding procedure, the most significant findings focused on the importance of spirituality, mentorship, and reflective assertiveness. All participants described how spirituality lay at the core of their leadership. They relied heavily upon spirituality as a means to cope with work challenges and to meet controversy. The participants mentioned various ways that mentorship was part of leadership. Thirty percent had a mentor pre-college, 40% remarked about mentors during college, and 30% noted the importance of a mentor on the job. All participants mentored others in either a formal or informal way during some part of their life. At present, all mentor an individual or a group of individuals. Reflective assertiveness was coined to depict balance in voice tone that an African American woman in leadership must find that will convey assertiveness rather than that of an attitude or an Angry Black woman stereotype. Participants mentioned the benefits of being African American in their position but also concerns regarding how others perceived them. They described the need to develop an authoritative yet reflective manner to act in a diverse organization.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Organizational leadership; African American women executives -- Case studies; Stress management--Religious aspects; Diversity in the workplace

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Hiatt-Michael, Diana B.;