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Xerox CEO climbs the corporate ladder

How are women doing in leadership positions? There's the notion that women have come a long way since the feminist revolution of the ’60s, but is it far enough? NBC's Rehema Ellis reports.

Anne Mulcahy started as a sales representative at Xerox nearly 30 years ago. Through hard work, and what she calls a balanced work environment, Mulcahy — a wife and mother of two — has climbed the corporate ladder and is now CEO of the $15 billion company.

“I think that women have to see that it's possible,” says Mulcahy. “There are role models out there that are successful in business and have very fulfilling personal lives as well.”

For 40 years, Xerox has encouraged promoting women through its ranks by building incentives into its corporate pay structure.

“Many of us came to Xerox because of its history,” says Mulcahy.

Today, of 32 corporate officers at Xerox, eight are women. So are 800 of its middle managers. And while Mulcahy says the company nurtures female executives, the promotion program goes far beyond that.

“I don't think that's a selection that gets made on the premise of, you know, gender, race or any other factor, other than are you ready to do the job?” says Mulcahy.

But even though women make up nearly 50 percent of the work force, experts say a male-dominated culture still holds women back. Only seven women are CEOs at Fortune 500 companies.

“Whether it's golf games or whether it's mentors,” says Ilene Lang, president of the research and advisory organization Catalyst Inc., “it's the career-making or breaking opportunities that women just don't have access to.”

And young women are looking elsewhere. Female applicants are down to a new low of 20 percent at some business schools, while the number of women in medical and law schools are up nearly 50 percent. Experts say that's because women believe they have more control as doctors and lawyers.

But Anne Mulcahy says that's a big loss for big business. 

“If you want a company that's a high performance company,” says Mulcahy, “you better be inclusive in terms of insuring that you have a company that welcomes and embraces 50 percent of the population, or you will be disadvantaged.”