Most Powerful Women

More women board members won't create better boards

October 2, 2012: 8:33 PM ET

Former Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy sparks a debate about board leadership at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit.

Anne Mulcahy

Anne Mulcahy

FORTUNE – Having more women on corporate boards won't necessarily translate to better-performing companies, said former Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit on Tuesday.

Mulcahy, who has been a member of the board of directors of Catalyst, Citigroup and Target, challenged studies that have suggested having more women on boards made an impact on the bottom-line of companies.

"There's got to be boards with women on it that suck – that just make poor choices, right?" Mulcahy told Fortune Senior Editor-at-Large Carol Loomis during a panel discussion.  "At the end of the day it's about the caliber of people that you put on the board and it's pretty damn stupid not to embrace the totality to get this talent."

Mulcahy added that focusing on gender "is a slippery slope" and that companies and non-profits should not "be generalizing about genders."

Whether or not she's right, it's hard not to wonder why women aren't having more say in corporate America. After all, over the past decade, more women than men in the U.S. have received bachelor's and master's degrees. And yet, this hasn't translated to more women occupying board seats. Whereas in 2002 13% of the more than 5,000 corporate board seats for S&P 500 companies were occupied by women, that number in 2012 barely budged to 17%, according to a September 2012 report by Ernst & Young.

Mulcahy didn't dismiss the relevance of having a diverse board; just that it's not the end all, be all of what makes it effective.

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About This Author
Nin-Hai Tseng
Nin-Hai Tseng
Writer, Fortune

Nin-Hai Tseng covers economics and finance. Before joining Fortune, Tseng was a reporter at The Orlando Sentinel and a public affairs associate at GE. She holds an MPA from Columbia University and a BS in Journalism from the University of Florida. She lives in New York City.

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