Having been in the hiring process in previous lives, there are "minority consideration" lines to check off on interview results in some companies. If we did not at least interview an equivalent number of minorities (of which, in engineering especially, women are one), our dept. was dinged. That being said, we weren't required (though encouraged) to hire a minority per se.
So the good news is we were expected to at least offer the opportunity (some might say preferentially) to interview to women/minorities, which, though might ruffle some folks feathers, may have resulted in hiring a woman. As you say, hopefully it is due to better (or at least equivalent) skills. Can't honestly say, depending on how rabidly "PC" a company enforces minority hiring.
Keep Up with TechRepublic