On Wednesday Feb. 13 Geneseo hosted Michaela Walsh, founder and former president of Women’s World Banking, as part of the All-College Hour Distinguished Speaker Series.
Walsh discussed leaving her hometown to pursue a career in finance. While she said that she faced many obstacles, mostly regarding her gender, Walsh was able to travel the world and found a global banking system targeted toward women.
Walsh said she knew when she was young that she wanted to have a career in finance.
“The thing I always knew was that money in my pocket made a difference in my role in life,” she said. “As soon as I was able to I went to Wall Street because that was where the men were and where the money was.”
Once she arrived in New York City, Walsh was hired to work at Merrill Lynch. While working there, she learned that her branch was sending employees to Beirut to train new employees at the international branch. Walsh inquired about this position, but was told that she was unable to handle traveling because she was a woman. Determined, Walsh quit her job at the New York branch, moved to Lebanon, and was hired at Merrill Lynch international.
At this job Walsh realized for the first time that “the American way was not the only way. There were many ways of doing things and wherever you were there were other ideas.”
Walsh eventually left Merrill Lynch to work for a company on Wall Street where was asked to run an office, and was later made a partner of the firm. While at the company Walsh was asked by a partner to put an exchange he had wrongly executed down in her name. She did it, and two weeks later he asked her to do the same thing with another exchange. It was then she said that she realized this was an immoral and unethical practice, and learned the most important lesson of her life.
“Ethically, you all will be tested on whether you’re willing to lie about something that is not totally accurate and totally honest and you have to decide then and there what you will do because if you do it once, you will do it again and again and it changes your life,” Walsh said.
After this incident she left Wall Street and was invited to a women’s finance meeting where she met people who were trying to set up a banking system for women.
Walsh and a group of women met with the United Nations Development Program and were given $250,000 to travel to different countries to see if a banking system was something women really needed.
She and five other women who met with the UNDP traveled to various countries, starting with Holland, and set up meetings to gather information, which eventually led to the creation of Women’s World Banking.
Walsh said she “prays women’s voice will get louder every day at the design table, whatever that design table may be.”