Lower Manhattan has a new tourist magnet, and she’s about four feet tall. In the small hours of Wednesday morning, “Fearless Girl,” a bronze statue of a young female striking a jaunty, audacious pose, was stealthily dropped off in front of “Charging Bull,” the famous Arturo Di Modica sculpture that has been snarling and pawing the ground just north of Bowling Green since 1989.
Like the steer at which she stares, “Fearless Girl” was a surprise to thousands of pedestrians who saw her for the first time. But unlike “Charging Bull,” which was installed Downtown (first in front of the New York Stock Exchange, before being moved to Bowling Green) without any official permission, the new icon was quietly approved by City officials before her arrival.
“Fearless Girl” is actually a form of agitprop by State Street Global Advisors — a Boston-based asset-management firm that is the world’s third largest — that wanted to make a statement for International Women’s Day.
“This is a two-fold message,” says Ann McNally, a vice president at the firm. “It visually reinforces the need for gender-diversity and the power of female leadership. But the real news is a call to action for the more-than-3,500 companies we invest in to make significant and tangible moves to increase number of women on their corporate boards.”
“We’re a long-term investor,” she continues, “and a significant shareholder in thousands of publicly-trade companies. Because we think in terms of years, rather than weeks or months, we have to focus on long-term issues and stewardship. We’re always looking for ideas that will drive performance and build better companies. And we believe that gender-diversity is something that all boards should incorporate into their practices, because it can improve the bottom line.”
Ms. McNally points out to a 2015 study by MSCI, a financial index provider, showing that companies with a strong female presence on their boards offered a 36 percent better return on equity than those that didn’t. She also points to another analysis, by the McKinsey Global Institute, indicating that advancing women’s equality could boost global economic output by $12 trillion over the next eight years.
“But for us,” says Ms. McNally, “the most shocking statistic is that one out of every four Russell 3000 companies do not have even one woman on their boards. So the needle isn’t moving. We’re hoping that our call to those 3,000 companies — along with awareness raised by the statue at Bowling Green — will elevate the dialog about this.”
To judge by the crowds that swarmed around “Fearless Girl” on Wednesday, awareness is definitely being raised. And the commotion was not confined to Lower Manhattan. “For most of Wednesday,” Ms. McNally says, “we’ve been trending on Facebook alongside Donald Trump and the Affordable Care Act.”
“This has been a concept we’ve been toying around with for the past year,” she adds. “In 2016, we launched an exchange-traded fund based on gender-diversity, with the ticker symbol SHE, which which tracks companies with women on their boards, women CEOs, and women in senior executive ranks.”
The bronze casting of “Fearless Girl” was created by Delaware sculptor Kristen Visbal, who was commissioned by the McCann New York advertising agency, on behalf of State Street. But future of the piece that has inspired so much attention is far from clear. “We have permission from the City to keep the piece there for one week,” Ms. McNally notes. “We are now in the process of requesting one month, but that discussion is ongoing. Beyond that, we just don’t know. But if there was interest in this becoming a permanent installation, we would be fully supportive of that.”