Yesterday, the team at Convene was honored to be the host for the Women in Treasury roundtable, organized by State Street Global Advisors, in honor of International Women’s Day. Among the guests of honor was Fearless Girl—the famous statue sculpted by artist Kristen Visbal and commissioned by State Street Global Advisors.
Fearless Girl was installed one year ago, on International Women’s Day 2017, in Lower Manhattan, staring down the Charging Bull statue on Broadway. Immediately, the statue struck a nerve. Thousands of people flocked to take pictures next to it, mirroring Girl’s confident pose.
But Fearless Girl wasn’t created just for some great photo ops—it came with a message from State Street Global Advisors. The firm was challenging companies to increase the representation of women on their boards and in senior management. One year later, that message has been heard. Since the installation, 152 companies have taken action and added more gender diversity at the board level.
After the luncheon, I spoke with Dominica Ribeiro, State Street Global Advisors’ Head of Institutional Marketing for North America, to learn more about the genesis of the project and what it was like seeing Fearless Girl for the first time.
Andrew Littlefield: What was your team’s involvement with the Fearless Girl statue?
Dominica Ribeiro: My team was involved in carrying Fearless Girl’s message in knowing the power of women in leadership. I’ve traveled the globe telling the story of the ideation of Fearless Girl and her message. In the ideation process we worked with our advertising agency, McCann, to brainstorm ideas on ways that we could celebrate International Women’s Day, the one year anniversary of our gender diversity index ETF (which has the ticker SHE), and we also wanted to recognize our president and CEO, who was calling on companies in our investment portfolio that did not have a single women on their board.
The advertising agency, together with us, came up with the idea of a statue, and specifically an 8 to 9-year-old girl statue. It was always intended to be a girl. Some have asked “Why not a woman?”
AL: That was actually my next question
DR: We thought about that and we felt… what exists now, exists now. And what I mean by that is that we’re starting to impact change, and collectively as a country we’re all making small changes to help close the gender diversity gap, but it’s really about the next generation of women. As a mom of three this is most important to me. And specifically, it’s about promoting diversity of thought, and helping to encourage the younger generation that change is possible.
AL: Do you think the choice of using a girl instead of a woman increased the emotional impact for people?
DR: Absolutely. Everyone has either a daughter, sister, family member, friend who is female, the world can relate to a young girl standing confident, standing fearless.
AL: Could you even imagine or anticipate the response that it got?
DR: No. There were a couple of us who said “Imagine if…” but by no means were we anticipating the global groundswell. Within two weeks, we had over 4.6 billion Twitter impressions and 745 million Instagram impressions, across six continents. The statue was instantly a tourist destination for people across the globe.
AL: My wife and I tried to go weeks after the installation and we still couldn’t even get to it with the crowds.
DR: We were thrilled and somewhat surprised at the tremendous amount of people that were lining up to see the Fearless Girl. We were extremely excited that her message was resonating with so many. A lot of people think that we started the petition after her placement to have her stay at her post, but we didn’t. The petition, shortly after her placement, got up to 50,000 signatures.
AL: What was it like to see the statue for the first time?
DR: Amazing. Inspirational. Even now, a year later, I still see the statue and feel inspired. In fact having her in the room at the roundtable helped us all feel inspired about the changes that we’ve seen over the last year, and excited about what’s to come.
AL: How closely did you work with the artist?
DR: Our team worked with the artist very closely as she was sculpting Fearless Girl. Her name is Kristen Visbal, and it was important to us to have a female artist. People ask if the Fearless Girl is modeled after one girl in particular, which she is not. There were several young girls who helped inspire the look and feel of Fearless Girl, but it’s not one girl specifically.
AL: What was an unexpected hurdle you encountered with this project?
DR: I think one of the biggest challenges was not anticipating the groundswell.
What wasn’t a surprise was the negative reactions—we had anticipated negative reactions and positive reactions. We were more prepared for those than the overwhelming positive reaction.
AL: How do you handle the criticism? Do you address it and risk giving it more of a stage, or ignore it?
DR: For us, there were certain pieces of criticism we would address and others that we just ignored. The ones that we ignored went away—people didn’t spend a lot of energy on the negativity. We wanted to focus on the positive and the message that she delivers.
AL: What’s next?
DR: Keeping the momentum going. Since installing Fearless Girl, we reached out to over 700 companies in our investment portfolio that did not have a single woman on their board. Over 150 of them have since added at least one women and 34 more have informed us of their plans to do so in the near future. For us, it’s about not losing the momentum that so many generations have been waiting for.
AL: Where can people learn more about the Fearless Girl mission?
DR: You can learn more about Fearless Girl at ssga.com/fearlessgirl, which I do want to warn you that the video on there will give you chills.