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Can women have it all?

Anne Mulcahy
Anne Mulcahy.

Her career forced her to put her personal life on hold, but former Xerox Corp. CEO Anne Mulcahy told a group of women at an Oct. 24 event that her work ultimately didn’t stop her from having a family.

The hotly debated question of whether or not women can “have it all” was at the crux of the first working women’s luncheon held by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce at the Westport Inn. The chamber plans to make the luncheon an annual event.

“No one can have it all,” Mulcahy said. “(But) make no mistake. You can have a serious career and a life. And that life gets defined in a lot of different ways. I call it work and other.”

Mulcahy, who has been a resident of Westport and Weston for 30 years, served as CEO of Xerox from 2001 to 2009. Currently she serves as chairwoman of Save the Children, a nonprofit organization serving children around the world in need.

“I wanted a career and I wanted a family and I was willing to eliminate just about everything else in life,” Mulcahy said. “Hobbies, personal time, social life; it all took a hiatus for a couple decades. It was tough but it’s doable.”

At the time Mulcahy took over the document management company, it was “unraveling,” she said. Revenue was on the decline, the company was running out of cash on hand for the first time and competition fromAsiawas charging less for their products than Xerox spent producing their products, Mulcahy said.

“I didn’t actually get promoted, I got drafted into the war,” she said, quoting Warren Buffett.

By investing in innovation and shifting the company’s focus onto services, Mulcahy was able to leave the company in strong financial health after she stepped down as chairwoman and a director of the board in 2010.

In addition to Save the Children, Mulcahy also currently serves on the board of directors for Johnson & Johnson, Target Corp. and The Washington Post Co.

Speaking passionately about female leadership, Mulcahy noted the high number of women leading nonprofits and prestigious academic institutions. But with only a couple dozen women currently CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, Mulcahy said there was further progress to be made.

“Women represent half the talent,” she said. “Last time I looked, 500 CEOs in the Fortune 500, we shouldn’t be satisfied until there’s 250 (female) CEOs in the Fortune 500.”

Recalling a speech she made to females at Princeton University, Mulcahy said she knew there will be an abundance of opportunities for young women in the future. But it will be up to them to figure out how to balance working and their lives.

“They’re going to fall off the corporate ladder faster than their male counterparts,” she said. “They’re going to struggle.”

“The most important thing is to define your priorities,” she added. “Companies don’t do that for you … you want to do that for you.”

Since retiring, Mulcahy has worked extensively with Save the Children, which she said was the next logical step in her career.

“It’s time to give back,” she said. “It’s what that next life should be – taking all that you’ve learned and finding a mission that fits. (Then) spending your time, hopefully, making a difference.”

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