The rhapsodic praise showered on “Fearless Girl” when she first confronted Wall Street’s famous “Charging Bull” statue in 2017 rings a bit more hollow today. The financial firm responsible for the bronze sculpture championing gender equality recently received a low rating for the diversity of its gender equality fund.
Created by artist Kristen Visbal and installed by State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) on Wall Street for International Women’s Day, “Fearless Girl” was initially deployed as a marketing stunt for the firm’s SHE exchange-traded fund before taking on a life of its own. The bronze statue eventually found a permanent home in front of the New York Stock Exchange in April 2018. Earlier this month, artist Manuel Oliver (the father of a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting victim) dressed the sculpture in a bulletproof vest to advocate for pragmatic gun laws in advance of the midterm elections.
“Fearless Girl” was initially envisioned as an attempt to restore public faith in the financial firm. Back in March 2017, Jilian Steinhauer wrote for Hyperallergic about the hypocrisy behind the statue. SSGA is a division of State Street, which has a board of directors including only 27% women. The company has also weathered SEC charges for misleading investors during the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis; battled a 2009 class action lawsuit for mismanaging retirement funds; and paid over $64 million in January 2017 to resolve fraud charges.
As You Sow is a shareholder advocacy group, which recently released a free Gender Equality Funds tool analyzing investors through the lenses of gender diversity and balance based on indicators from a company’s leadership, management, and workforce. It then compares those statistics to a company’s fund to create a gender equality portfolio score. (The company has also released similar tools for Fossil Free Funds, Deforestation Free Funds, Tobacco Free Funds, and Weapon Free Funds.)
The funders of “Fearless Girl” received 47 out of 100 points for their overall gender equality score. The SHE ETF (shorthand for exchange-traded fund) ranked 222 out of 540 comparable funds. Ironically, some of State Street funds not specifically marketed toward gender diversity scored as high as 61 out of 100.
“We’re going to have conversations with them,” As You Sow’s Andrew Behar told ImpactAlpha. “We want to understand how they’re picking their funds and what the methodology is. I want to talk to the fund managers.”
Behar cautioned that the rankings may be distorted by incomplete data. The rankings do not reflect shareholder engagement activities such as voting against all-male boards of directors. State Street, which controls $2.8 trillion in total assets, said in September that it voted against more than 500 chairs of nominating committees on boards without women in each of the last two proxy seasons.
Although the report is unlikely to deflate the expectations of the eager tourists who visit “Fearless Girl” on Wall Street every day, it sheds new light on the limits of such financial firms to deliver on their overtures of gender equality. And lest we forget, the feminist statue was originally supposed to be a big, bronze cow.