By Mariuxi Mansfield, Staff Writer
It has been a roller coaster year for women’s rights issues.
After a political campaign where the current President of the United States has said several epithets against women, provoking strikes, marches and controversy, it may seem hard to find a voice or a message that truly speaks for International Women’s Day.
But then there was “The Fearless Girl.”
On the the eve of the International Women’s Day, March 8, the Advertising Agency McCann Erickson and its client, the investment firm State Street Global Advisors (SSGA), decided to make a bold statement.
They set a 50-inch sculpture of a little girl standing against one of the most iconic images on Wall Street, “The Charging Bull.”
The idea behind the sculpture was to celebrate “the power of women in leadership,” calling on over 3,500 companies that manage trillions of dollars to increase the number of women on their corporate boards.
The Delaware sculptor Kristen Visbal was hired by SSGA for their campaign. She wanted to create someone that everyone could relate to: a girl wearing high-tops in a simple dress, with her hair pulled back in a ponytail. At her feet a plaque reads, ‘‘Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.’’
“The idea of having a female standing against the bull just struck us as a very clever but also creative and engaging way to make that statement,” Lori Heinel, State Street’s deputy global chief investment officer, told to Business Insider. “Her stance is one of determination, forwardness, and being willing to challenge and take on the status quo.”
However, the efforts of SSGA to improve the number of female executives in its own ranks hasn’t provided a good example on this matter. Of its 28-person leadership team, only five are women, according to the company website.
As a matter of fact, the new Equilar Gender Diversity Index (GDI), an index that measures 50 percent representation of both males and females on Russell 3,000 boards, revealed that it will take nearly 40 years for 3,000 boards of directors to reach gender parity.
If the current rate of growth remains the same, boards would reach 50 percent male and 50 percent female representation by 2055.
“We believe boards have an important role to play in increasing gender diversity and believe our guidance can help directors take action now,” Rakhi Kumar, head of corporate governance at State Street Global Advisors, said.
According to a market leader in equity indexes (MSCI) study cited by State Street Global Advisors, companies with strong female leadership generate a return on equity of 10.1 percent per year vs 7.4 percent for those without women in top positions.
“I feel like every other month a new study comes out that makes the case for gender diversity in corporate leadership,” Brande Stellings, vice president of corporate board services for Catalyst, a nonprofit research firm, said.
Several research studies from this firm state that companies with greater levels of gender diversity have had stronger financial performance and fewer issues with bribery, corruption, and fraud.
The same research has shown that groups with more diverse compositions tended to be more innovative and make better decisions.
The statue lit up Twitter with its own hashtag #FearlessGirl and drew large crowds, making this sculpture an international headline.
“It’s not right! They are insulting all the American people and me and my work,” 76-year-old Arturo Di Modica, a Sicilian immigrant, and the sculptor of “The Charging Bull”, told MarketWatch in an interview. “My bull is a symbol for America. My bull is a symbol of prosperity and for strength.”
“The Charging Bull” itself started as a piece of “temporary guerilla art” in 1989. It was meant to be a symbol of power and strength for the American people after the stock market crash in 1987.
In addition, “The Charging Bull” was installed without permission. McCann did get a permit for “The Fearless Girl.”
In any case, State Street Global Advisors never expected the massive reaction the sculpture received.
“In her short time here, ‘The Fearless Girl’ has fueled powerful conversations about women in leadership and inspired so many,” Bill de Blasio, the Mayor of New York City, said in a statement.
“The Fearless Girl” will remain in place through February 2018, Mayor de Blasio’s office told the Daily News on Sunday, March 26.
“That is not a symbol! That’s an advertising trick,” Di Modica said.