The world’s third-largest asset manager, State Street Global Advisors – a nearly $2.5 trillion investor and unit within State Street Corp – have been working with marketing agency McCann New York. Together they have created a piece of art as part of its new campaign to pressure companies to have a better gender mix on their boards. On Tuesday, the eve of Internatonal Womens Day, they installed a bronze girl statue in front of the famous charging bull statue on New York’s Wall Street. The company is calling on the more than 3,500 companies that SSGA invests on behalf of clients, representing more than $30 trillion in market capitalisation to take intentional steps to increase the number of women on their corporate boards.
The bronze sculpture by US artist Kristen Visbal. Visbal, who has called the sculpture “The Fearless Girl,” explained to the The Wall Street Journal that she had originaly considered having the girl charging the bull, but in the end decided the girl should should be more defiant towards the bull.
“Wall Street is a traditionally male environment and it says, ‘Hey, we’re here,’” Visbal explained. “To me, it says a woman can be delicate and petite, but strong.”
The statue appeared with no warning on Tuesday night, echoing the original appearance of the bull she so fearlessly stares down. Unlike the bull, they did get a permit for the statue. The plan, initially is to have it up for a short period of time, but if it gets public backing it could become permanent. A plaque next to the statue reads “Know the power of women in leadership. She makes a difference.”
The bull, one of New York’s iconc pieces of ‘guerilla art’ was originally placed it in front of the New York Stock Exchange in December 1989 by Italian-born artist Arturo Di Modica. It was designed as a symbol of New York’s strength and resillience after the 1987 stock market crash. After a show of public support it was later given a more permanent home, nearby on Broadway.
“We believe good corporate governance is a function of strong, effective and independent board leadership,” said Ron O’Hanley, president and chief executive officer of State Street Global Advisors. “A key contributor to effective independent board leadership is diversity of thought, which requires directors with different skills, backgrounds and expertise. Today, we are calling on companies to take concrete steps to increase gender diversity on their boards and have issued clear guidance to help them begin to take action.”
According to an MSCI study, companies with strong female leadership generated a return on equity of 10.1 percent per year versus 7.4 percent for those without a critical mass of women at the top, which is a 36.4 percent increase of average return on equity. And, according to a 2015 McKinsey Global Institute report, moving to a scenario where women participate in the economy identically to men would add up to $28 trillion, or an additional 26 percent, to annual global GDP by 2025 compared to a business as usual scenario.
Despite this, although there has been some progress made on the inclusion of women on corporate boards, one out of every four Russell 3000 companies do not have even one woman on their board, and nearly 60 percent have fewer than 15 percent of their boards comprising women directors.
“As part of our review of boards’ gender diversity, we analyzed and compared the level of diversity in three markets: Australia, the UK and the US,” said Rakhi Kumar, head of corporate governance at SSGA. “Most large cap company boards in these markets have at least one female director but have yet to fully embrace gender equality in their ranks. We believe boards have an important role to play in increasing gender diversity and believe our guidance can help directors take action now.”
“I wholeheartedly support State Street’s efforts,” said Chris Ailman, Chief Investment Officer, CalSTRS. “Companies need to step up and better utilize the talents and leadership of women in their Corporate Boards, C-suite and throughout their ranks. This statue boldly signals to financial markets that the future depends on investing in the power of women. We all need to lean in and be bold for change now.”
To help address the gender gap head-on, SHE (SPDR®SSGA Gender Diversity Index ETF (ticker: SHE)) incorporates an innovative charitable component that focuses on strengthening the next generation of women leaders – particularly in industries where women have low representation today such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). SSGA is directing a portion of their revenues and a match from SSGA to a Donor Advised Fund, which has awarded a $50,000 grant to Girls Who Invest, a nonprofit organization founded in April 2015 dedicated to increasing the number of women in portfolio management and executive leadership in the asset management industry.
It’s an impressive way of getting a point across. Axios reports that the NYC Department of Transportation estimates over 20,000 people walk on Wall Street daily during rush hour, and the hastag #fearlessgirl has reached an estimate of approximately a quarter million people in less than one day. It would be great to see this piece of art with a point becoming a more permamenent part of Wall Street. It’s a lovely piece of viral marketing which has really captured the imagination and has a strong ethical message.