She sees a special role for women in the board room
Washington — The time: 1983 The place: The United States The scence: The start of a new renaissance, carried out with the aid of the single most important advantage the country has over its Western competitors: its woman power.
The playwright for this scene is Julia Walsh, the only women on the East Coast, and one of three in the country, to own her own investment firm.
Head of the Washington, D.C., firm of Julia Walsh & Sons ("it's a corny title , but my sons insisted") and regular panelist on Wall Street Week in Review (PBS), Mrs. Walsh is a silver-haired, blue-eyed woman with a sweettoned voice and a practical turn of mind. In a recent interview, she outlined this scenario of hope, and the roles if opens for women.
"We're going through a basic shift in our economy." she says. "You can feel it in the market. In the next three years, we will have a fundamental change in tax structure and environmental law, and a fantastic change in the energy field.
"Three years from now, you won't recognize the energy situation -- the entrepreural spirit in this country will have solved problems that government hasn't even begun to come to grips with."
Women Mrs. Walsh feels, should be right out in front of these gland tidings. "We're the only Western nation that's really using our woman power," she asserts , "and this doubles our ability and talent in the job market."
What some see as a doubling of available talent, others perceive as a threat. This fear is particularly rampant during a period of high unemployment, MRs. Walsh feels, and tends to disappear when the job market has need for all hands.
It is during periods of full employment that the women's movement has made most of its progress, says Mrs. Walsh. "I know this is not a popular thing to say, but I do believe that most of what has happened to open up opportunities for women has had an economic base --
It was during one of those periods of full employment that Mrs. Walsh graduated from college and joined the foreign service, going to Germany right after World War II. There, she met and married an Army officer -- and was immediately drummed out of the corps. "We tend to forget this -- it was not so long ago that married women were not allowed to hold certain kinds of jobs," she says.
Mrs. Walsh fell reluctantly into the role set for most women in the 1950s: staying home and raising a large family. "Women had a taste of freedom during the war, and it was difficult for them to return to the home," she recalls. "But again, there was an economic basis -- we felt we had to give our jobs to returning GIs."
Although Mrs. Walsh values the role of the homemaker, she believes that every woman should have the security of knowing she has the skills to support her family. When Mrs. Walsh's Army husband passed on, she had four young sons to support, and she quickly developed such skills.
"But knowing them before I was faced with widowhood would have given me much more security and changed my family relationships," she feels. "I want my daughters to have that security."
The daughters are the result of a marriage to a widower, who brought seven children to the wedding. The Walshes then had a 12th child and became "world authorities" on paying for higher education.
"We have been married 15 years," she calculates, "and in that time, we have paid for 27 years of high school, 32 years of college, and 12 years of graduate school."
Economic necessity is the force behind Mrs. Walsh's and, she feels, most women's return to the job market -- a return facilitated by a brief period of full employment in the mid-1960s. "Our country needed people with technical know-how," she recalls, "and technicians, regardless of gender or skin color, went right to the top."
The 1960s were responsible for promoting other ideas besides the women's movement, Mrs. Walsh says, including an "artificial economy based on unrealistic oil prices and an unreal valuing of the dollar." The '60s also stimulated what she calls "rising aspirations --now than we did in the 30s. Many women working today are trying to maintain the standards set during the heyday of the 1960s. We expect to have two cars, own our homes, go to Europe, and so we work for these things."
The artificial economies collapsed during the early 1970s, Mrs. Walsh recalls , and set in motion inflationary tendencies which still ravage the country. With rising unemployment, women in the marketplace were viewed as more of a threat, and resistance to women's rights grew.
Women themselves, while making some progress in the business schools, midmanagement positions, and in law, kept themselves back in several ways, Julia Walsh feels. "You can't solve the country's problems by yourself, but you can try to solve your own," she says.
If she were starting out today in the business world, she would:
* Get a strong education in economics. "We must be conditioned to think economically," she says, "and to evaluate decisions in a financial way. Take a course in accounting, take a minor in economics, attend an investment class."
* Learn to evaluate, understand, and take risks. "All of our education as women is geared toward the safety factor -- the entrepreneural mind does not belong to women in this country," she says with some disgust. One of Mrs. Walsh's turning points as a businesswoman came during 1978: Her fledgling company had a lot at stake on energy and real estate-type investments, and the economy took a downward turn. Surviving that period gave her "the depth and the confidence to do it again," she says. Such risk taking is essential to business.
* Go for leadership roles in your organization and volunteer work by getting involved in the problem-solving areas. "The way to be a leader is to solve problems," she states. "This will put you into the positions that mold the industry."
* Be realistic about your assessment of the job market. "Don't evaluate today's economy with last decade's rules," she says. "If I were training for a job today, I would get something in the high technology, energy-related field -- that's what's headed for the top."
Mrs. Walsh gets upset with those who feel that "getting to the top" equates with "becoming a white male;" that being a corporate leader means dressing, acting, and thinking like a man.
"There is no need for us to emulate men," she states flatly. "I'm not saying we're better than men, but we're different -- we come from different backgrounds , and we bring a different dimension to the board room. I serve on several boards, and have found that, from time to time, I am the only one on those boards who sees problems in a particular light.
"Women are more humanistic, not as materialistic as men," she feels. "We look at the social, human implications of a problem, where men tend to look solely at the financial end -- the bottom line. Of course, you can't operate without that bottom line, but we women provide a balance that has been missing from the system."
The boards Mrs. Walsh serves on, in addition to her own firm, include local organizations such as the Washington Board of Trade; national organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce; and international groups like the President's Advisory Committee on International Trade. She also serves on trade organizations, such as the American Stock Exchange.
Balancing her business with the work she does on these 12 organizations is a trial and uses all the management skills and techniques she learned bringing up children. "As a mother, I was especially proud of my staff organization. I learned how to delegate assignments, get reluctant workers to perform, and deal with delicate personality problems."
She looks forward to a time in the American economy when all such developed skills can be freely used by women in the marketplace. And that time, she feels , is right around the corner.