In 2000, Anne Mulcahy was offered the biggest promotion of her career at Stamford-based Xerox Corporation. The young businesswoman who began her Xerox career as a field sales representative 24 years earlier was being asked to step in as President and Chief Operating Officer, with the intent of moving into the Chief Executive Officer position by 2001. But, when asked about this promotion, Mulcahy told the Families and Work Institute, “To be very honest, this was less like being promoted than it was being drafted into the war, because we had some very serious issues.” This was no exaggeration. By the time she stepped into the CEO chair, the company was $17.1 billion in debt, its stock was quickly losing value, and bankruptcy seemed imminent. But Mulcahy, armed with experience, motivation, and the self-confidence needed to lead what seemed like an uphill battle, took the job. Upon acceptance, she became only one of six female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Today, Mulcahy is credited with orchestrating the dramatic turnaround and positive transformation of Xerox during her decade at the helm.
Anne Marie Dolan was born in Rockville Centre, N.Y., on October 21, 1952, the only girl in a family of five children. Her father was a writer and editor working in publishing and her mother a stay-at-home mom whom her daughter remembers as her father’s equal on all accounts. The Dolans raised their daughter to believe that gender was a non-issue. Traditionally female-centered chores were never strictly hers, she was always invited to go play ball with her brothers, and she was never exempt from engaging in rigorous dinner table debates. Like her brothers, she was expected to pursue an education, set career goals, and reach them despite what hurdles might arise. She did just that, receiving a degree in English and Journalism from Fordham University in 1974.
In 1976, upon entering the Xerox fold in a sales position, she had found her calling. She excelled in sales and was aware that in a male-dominate workforce, sales allowed her to provide results that could not be disputed. Soon after beginning work at Xerox, she met and married Joe Mulcahy, who also worked in the sales department. Although Xerox was ahead of the curve in hiring women, it was no utopia and Mulcahy began to have questions regarding work/home, career/mom balances, knowing that long-range she deserved and wanted both. She recognized that many women probably shared these feelings and hesitations and knew that if Xerox wanted to keep talented women on board, they needed to create a space in which to navigate these concerns. Working with six other women, Mulcahy initiated what is now known as The Women’s Alliance.
Mulcahy was able to assume increasingly responsible sales and senior management positions throughout her years at Xerox. By 2000, when she became President and COO, she had gained firsthand insight into how different sectors within the company operated and developed the relationships she needed to turn Xerox’s dismal fate around. Mulcahy is known for being a hands-on, highly accessible leader with outstanding communication skills. She gained her employees trust and respect by being open and honest with them, including them in strategy sessions, and making some hard decisions that resulted in some job losses. In 2001 she was named CEO and, in 2002, added Chairman to her title. Those who were once skeptics were forced to become believers. Since 2004, Mulcahy has consistently made Forbes Magazine’s annual list of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the World. In 2008, she was named one of America’s Best Leaders by U.S. News and World Report, and Chief Executive Magazine dubbed her CEO of the Year.
Mulcahy retired from her CEO position in July 2009 and stepped down from the Board of Directors in May 2010. She left the company on secure footing and handed her title over to a team member she had long admired for her guts and business foresight. In 2009, Mulcahy made history again by becoming the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company to give her title to another woman, Ursula Burns.
Anne Mulcahy now serves as Chairman of the Board for Save the Children in Westport, Conn.
During This Time
1966 - Today: Struggle for Justice
Feminism in the late 1960s was aided by President Kennedy, who formed the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961, and his successor, President Johnson, who backed passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Difficulties in implementing the law through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) led a group of women in 1966 to create the National Organization for Women (NOW), demanding “action to bring American women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now.”
A younger group called for a more radical approach to social change than simply considering what was possible to achieve politically. “Women’s liberation” demanded freedom without limitation. Some took part in consciousness-raising groups, others demonstrated against the Miss America pageant, and many discussed their expectations of mutual enjoyment of sex. They established rape crisis centers, domestic shelters, and women’s studies programs. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act also increased pressure on universities to hire more women faculty and expand the number of female college athletes. Activist protest among gays and lesbians, such as the Stonewall Riot, symbolized this group’s potential to resist oppression.
Under pressure, many states repealed legislation prohibiting abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized its availability to women in Roe v. Wade. Also in 1973, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the ERA, and states began its ratification.
Yet, dissension arose in the ranks of the movement, as it had earlier after passage of the 19th amendment. Feminists disagreed as to whether pornography should be banned or protected as a form of free speech, and whether lesbian identities should be kept secret or disclosed. Black women were more concerned with poverty and welfare in their communities than with personal career advancement; for them, sterilization abuse was more important than abortion, and they were deeply insulted by attacks on the African American family as matriarchal and dysfunctional.
A backlash was growing in the 1970s, along with a New Right in politics. The ERA was defeated and opposition to abortion increased. Conflicts between pro-life and pro-choice candidates have impacted every presidential campaign since then.
Still, gains have been made in many areas. From 1960 to 2000, increasing numbers of women sought entry to higher education, and bachelor’s degrees awarded to them increased from forty to sixty percent. Definitions of marriage have changed, as when courts gave full rights and responsibilities and the name of marriage to same-sex civil unions in Connecticut in 2008. The Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 highlighted concern about sexual harassment on the job, and the number of sexual harassment cases filed with the EEOC have increased, as have judgments in favor of the women. Finally, in 2009, women crossed the fifty percent threshold and became the majority of the American workforce. Once largely confined to repetitive manual jobs, now they are running organizations that once treated them as second-class citizens.
The Women’s Movement has changed women’s lives, influenced the economy, and made debate about their roles, family life, and sexual conventions central to national politics and American history.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.