Business

Statue of girl facing Wall St. bull highlights push for more female leaders

U.S. money manager State Street said Wednesday it is going to start putting real pressure on the 3,500 companies in invest in to put more women in charge — or they'll put their money where their mouth is and leave.

Money manager will start using its financial influence to compel companies to give more power to women

State Street unveiled the statue as part of its efforts on International Women's Day. (State Street)

U.S. money manager State Street said Wednesday it is going to start putting real pressure on the 3,500 companies it invests in to put more women in charge — or they'll put their money where their mouth is and leave.

The company, which manages almost $2.5 trillion in assets, marked International Women's Day with the campaign, which it says will be in effect immediately.

"We believe good corporate governance is a function of strong, effective and independent board leadership," State's president Ron O'Hanley said. "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."

Despite years of lip service on the topic, little concrete progress has been made. Of the 3,000 largest publicly traded companies in the U.S., a quarter of them don't have a single woman on their board of directors. And more than half have only token female representation.

State cites recent data showing why that's not just inequitable — it's bad for business. Companies with strong female leadership generated a return on equity of 10.1 per cent per year. That compares with 7.4 per cent for those without a critical mass of women at the top.

"A lot of people talk about gender diversity, but we really felt we had to take it to a broader level," said Anne McNally, whose firm is an investment management subsidiary of State Street Corp.

State Street plans for the statue to be in place for a month, but if the city obliges and the public supports the move, it may well become permanent. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

The company has also implemented a potent visual aid in its campaign, by unveiling a statue of a small girl — "representing the future," the company said — directly opposite the iconic bull statue on Wall Street.

Much the same as the charging bull, the little bronze girl by artist Kristen Visbal was put up in the wee hours of the morning as "guerilla art," McNally said. But, unlike the bull, the firm discussed it with the city beforehand so that it could remain at least temporarily. "We're actively pursuing that it stays for a month," she said. "If the city decides that it should stay in perpetuity, we're absolutely on board with that."

The bull, sculpted by Italian-born artist Arturo Di Modica, was initially taken down after he quietly placed it in front of the New York Stock Exchange in December 1989. But it was later given a permanent home, about a five-minute walk away on Broadway, in response to public support.

The statue of a young girl was a popular hit with passers-by on Wall Street on Tuesday. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

The statue is State's figurehead of its efforts to put its financial muscle behind the generational effort to get more women into positions of power. The company is choosing to focus on the board level — as opposed to the executive ranks — through a belief that influence can filter down.

"I wholeheartedly support State Street's efforts," said Chris Ailman, chief investment officer at California State Teachers' Retirement System. "Companies need to step up and better utilize the talents and leadership of women in their corporate boards, [senior management] 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."

With files from Reuters

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