State Street Global Advisors bronze statue of a young girl staring down Wall Street's iconic charging bull is both an instant overnight sensation and a practical call for action.

Fearless Girl is a bronze sculpture of a defiant girl, staring down a Wall Street's iconic charging bull. Courtesy of SSGA.
Fearless Girl is a bronze sculpture of a defiant girl, staring down a Wall Street's iconic charging bull. Courtesy of SSGA.

( — March 13, 2017) — New York, NY – On the eve of International Women’s Day, the world’s third largest asset manager, State Street Global Advisors, in collaboration with McCann New York, installed a bronze statue of a young girl staring down one of Lower Manhattan’s greatest icons, Wall Street’s charging bull.

This move which drew global attention to the lack of diversity on boards is not just symbolic. It is a practical call to action as this campaign enforces the already proven fact that companies with women in leadership roles perform better financially, the Business Insider reports.

It is not often that a major financial institution shines a light on the under-representation of women in executive positions.

There are countless articles describing what it’s like to be a woman on Wall Street, but the summary of most is the same. It’s difficult to succeed not because they are not strong or qualified, but because the institution does not want them to succeed.

The Charging Bull has been considered by many a symbol of this kind of “boys club” environment that Wall Street embodies so proudly.

Twenty-five percent of the Russell 3000, a broad index of U.S. companies, have no women on their boards, according to State Street Global Advisors, which manages many of their assets. 

SSGA manages nearly a US 2.5 trillion in assets and has big stakes in many of the 3500 largest publicly listed companies in the U.S., UK and Australia.

According to ISS Analytics, a business research firm, only 16 percent of board seats on companies in the Russell 3000 are held by women, with the average board of directors having eight men and only one woman, Bloomberg reports.

According to State Street, although there has been progress regarding the inclusion of women on corporate boards, women comprise less than 15% of the boards of directors of nearly 60% of Russell 3000 companies.

Therefore, SSGA vowed that if directors don’t move quickly to appoint more women to their boards, it will use its proxy power to vote their shares against them and influence change if investors feel enough action hasn’t been taken.

Yet, the World Economic Forum made a rather discouraging prediction that the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186.

But, chief executive of Australian Institute of Chief Directors (AICD), John Brogden, thinks that “we can all agree 169 years is too long to wait”. Mr. Brogden, supporting the “Fearless Girl” cause, advised companies to move quickly as the AICD has set a target for 30 per cent women on ASX 200 boards by the end of 2018, SMH reports.

In the latest report tracking gender diversity on boards in Australia released this week, it was found that women account for 25 per cent of ASX 200 (Australia’s leading share market index) board positions, up from 8.3 per cent in 2009.

SSGA went a step further and issued guidelines to boards to address sources of unconscious bias that might inhibit the recruitment of women and which pose unseen obstacles to female leadership.

State Street Global Advisors, based in Boston, has been a vocal advocate for gender diversity at companies, pushing for more women on boards and in leadership roles.

In order to highlight this message in a unique and authentic way, the company went to an advertising giant, McCann NY, as to find “the most tasteful, respectful and effective way” to participate in the international dialogue surrounding Women’s Day.

Together, they installed a statue of the Fearless Girl as “a reminder to corporations across the globe that having more women in leadership positions contributes to overall performance and strengthens our economy”, says Ron O’Hanley, chief executive officer of SSGA.

The agency has three women on its 11-member board, according to its website.

However, there are critics that say that the companies behind the Girl’s presence in the heart of Wall Street are not exactly representatives of gender equality as women comprise less than 30 percent of the board structure.

What’s even worse, SSGA itself has been implicated in “shady dealings,”, such as meriting a settlement of over $64 million with the U.S. government, Inquirer reports.

Despite its critics, the company is making efforts to engage with boards and management around issues that they believe are critical in improving their performance.

“What you find repeatedly is having more diverse boards and more diverse senior management will actually drive better results for companies,” said Lori Heinel, State Street’s deputy global chief investment officer, Bloomberg reports.

According to an MSCI study cited by State Street, companies with strong female leadership generated a return on equity of 10.1% per year versus 7.4% for those without a critical mass of women at the top, which is a 36.4% increase of average return on equity, proving that company with greater gender diversity tend to perform better financially.

But McCann needed to find a way to change people’s perceptions of leadership, since a financial center such as Wall Street has been “historically male, and people—subconsciously or consciously—view male leaders as the backbone of successful financial companies”, said McCann senior copywriter, Tali Gumbiner.

“So, we had this wonderful opportunity where we weren’t just advocating for women in leadership because it’s a nice thing to do, but because we actually need to change the perception of what a successful company is made of. That is such a challenge, but such a cool one”, Ms. Gumbiner added.

Stephen Tisdalle, McCann chief marketing officer, said to the New York Times on Wednesday that “what this girl represents is the present, but also the future”.

McCann’s production department and outside sculptor who brought the idea to life, Kristen Visbal, created the sculpture of a girl standing defiantly, with arms placed at her hips, her face raised and ponytail swinging in the air, representing “basically everything that’s wrong with our society” as Jillian Steinhauer wrote on the website “Hyperallergic”.

“We wanted this wonderful contrast between the delicate child and the aggressive bull”, the artist said. “I think the fact that she’s a child makes the figure much more endearing”, she added.

“She’s not angry at the bull — she’s confident, she knows what she’s capable of, and she’s wanting the bull to take note”, Mr. Tisdalle explained to Forbes. ‘

The crowd was charmed by the girl’s confident and defiant pose, making the Bowling Green Park into the place to take a selfie in Manhattan. This is considered as a remarkable breakthrough in advertising, as in finance as a category one does not see many of them, Adweek concludes.

Even though it’s a little girl, her stance is one of determination, forwardness, and being willing to challenge and take on the status quo”, Lori Heinel, State Street’s deputy global chief investment officer, told Business Insider.

The creators felt that a grown woman wouldn’t be as emotionally striking as a little girl,  as she represents something deeply meaningful and important that everyone can relate to.

When asked about the girls’ pose, McCann senior art director, Lizzie Wilson referred to Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist who held a TED Talk about power poses. She conducted a study which proved that our non verbals govern how we think and feel about ourselves. Our bodies do change our minds, as seen in a study which showed that being in a “wonderwoman pose” for no more than two minutes increases one’s power by pulling stress hormone cortisole levels down, while at the same increasing dominance hormone testorone levels.

Therefore, the statue mimics the style of the bull in material and presence, but the contents are totally different in attitude, according to Mashable.

“Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference,” reads a plaque at her feet, as SGGA initally approached McCann NY as to promote a fund called SHE, which only invests in companies with women in leadership.

Julie Suk, a law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, recently wrote in The New York Times how corporate board gender statistics in France have led to stronger boards and improved corporate governance in companies throughout the entire country. The need to search for more female candidates has led to a call for more sophisticated public articulation of the necessary qualifications that board members should adhere to and therefore, has increased standards of corporate governance quality.

During an interview with CNN, SSGA’s Deputy Chief Investment Officer, Lori Heinel, said that the company finds board governance to be of crucial importance as better boards just make better decisions and drive the neccesary change in a more proactive way.

Many find that a permanent residency of this tactile and artful piece would be a constant source of strength, and for fearless girls and fearless women walking down the street.

Some have already started a Change.Org petition asking the city to give “Fearless Girl” a permanent residence on Wall Street. On Twitter, people using the hashtag #FearlessGirl are calling for the statue to become the Bull’s permanent partner.

The 28-year-old Wall Street “Charging Bull” statue by Arturo Di Modica, who unlike SSGA did not have a permit but has rather snuck it onto Wall Street one night in 1989. The statue was then removed by the police, but as New Yorkers requested it back, the city eventually returned it to the public.

The Fearless Girl gained a permit to be displayed for one week, but is currently being negotiated to remain for at least a month due to its popularity, with many hoping she gets to become a permanent feature.