Fearless Girl statue

Fearless Girl: Statue of limitations?

The most powerful statues embody new orthodoxies and so it is with Fearless Girl, a figure which stands for female empowerment originally stationed facing down the bronze bull in front of the New York Stock Exchange. A replica of her arrived in London this week as State Street, the bank that commissioned her three years ago to advertise an investment fund targeting gender diverse firms, sought to remind people what they are doing to advance women’s equality for today’s International Women’s Day.

Response

As most corporates dreamed up lifeless, stiff campaigns, the highly instagrammable Fearless Girl reaped plaudits for State Street after the photo call. The City of London Corporation led the cheerleading with its chair of policy and resources, Catherine McGuinness quoted in State Street’s release saying rather glibly that she hoped “[the statue] will inspire generations of girls to become fearless leaders”.

Impact

State Street scored bags of great coverage. Coincidentally, this contrasted favourably with BNY Mellon, one of their main competitors, who with feet of clay struggled to contain an employee outcry that spilled out into media about proposals to scrap working from home arrangements. The measures would have impacted women particularly negatively.    

What could be done differently?

Kudos to State Street, particularly as their own board falls short of parity with women filling three of its 11 seats, a point omitted from most coverage.

All too often, in a question straight out of satire, communications teams will have asked themselves in the weeks before today, “what are we doing for international women’s day this year?!”. Many might feel they must take part in today’s virtue signalling for fear that doing nothing will paint them backwards or on the wrong side of history.

That path leads to swapping substance for soundbite. Even State Street’s smart campaign and their supporters at the City of London Corporation, were very lucky. The Corporation’s blithe quote seems to imply that fearlessness is somehow sufficient and a leadership quality to be encouraged, when research shows that employees trust leaders who build positive relationships, demonstrate good judgement or expertise and are consistent.

For consistency is key. Corporates should enjoy today’s propaganda opportunity and marketing exercise while they can. In the UK at least, the deadline for gender pay gap reporting looms. Last year, State Street paid women 18 per cent an hour less than men and awarded bonuses 39 per cent smaller. Better than its banking peers but worse than the UK average. The real test of fearlessness is still to come.

Michael Baker

Michael Baker