Fearless Girl continues to make her presence felt in boardrooms around the globe – and she isn’t backing down.
That was the message I delivered at The New York Times’ first “New Rules Summit: Women, Leadership and a Playbook for Change” late last month. Speaking before business leaders and influencers across industries who came together to discuss the new rules of leadership for this new era, I had the privilege to share the latest progress we’ve made with our Fearless Girl campaign and the new ways we are pushing businesses across our global portfolio to change for the better.
A little background is in order. On the eve of International Women’s Day last year, State Street Global Advisors placed a 50-inch bronze statue of a little girl, hands on hips and chin held high, confidently standing her ground on Wall Street. Almost overnight, the Fearless Girl became a viral phenomenon, inspiring countless discussions about the power and potential of women in leadership – not to mention likely setting a record for selfies in our social media age.
For State Street Global Advisors, she also represented something else: a bold and very public commitment to working with the companies in our portfolio to move the needle on increasing gender diversity on corporate boards. Indeed, the day we placed Fearless Girl in the heart of New York’s financial district, we also called on companies in the US, UK and Australia to add more female directors to their boards – issuing guidance to help them take action and warning that we were prepared to vote against them if they did not act.
Our rationale for this policy wasn’t driven by a political agenda but by our laser focus on performance. Put differently: value not values was the lens we used for examining this issue. As anyone who has served on a board knows, there is a real advantage in working with board members who bring different perspectives and backgrounds, and approach problem solving in different ways. A recent study by Future Fund and Willis Towers Watson pointed to improved “cognitive diversity” as one of the key factors in helping to meet investment goals given the uncertain outlook in capital markets – and gender diversity is one important component of achieving cognitive diversity. Despite this and other research connecting board gender diversity to improved long-term performance, many public companies still have no women serving on their boards. So we believed we had an obligation to our shareholders to engage directly with companies on their behalf, using our voice and our vote to effect change.
In 2018, we expanded our gender diversity guidance to also include companies in Canada and Japan. Now, 18 months into the campaign, Fearless Girl’s influence and impact continues to grow. Consider that since our policy went into effect:
- 301 companies around the globe have added a female director to their board.1
- 28 more have committed to add a female director in the near term.2
- We voted against more than 500 companies each year – in 2017 and 2018 – who didn’t get the message and have failed to take steps toward adding a female director.
All told, more than 1-in-4 of the over 1,200 companies we initially identified as having no women on their boards have responded positively. The number of companies in the Russell 3000 without a female board director has dropped by a third – from 24% at the end of 2016 to 16% as of the end of the first half of 2018.3
So where do we go from here?
To date, we’ve used our proxy voting power against the Nominating and Governance Committee chair. Now, encouraged by the early results of this campaign and looking to increase the impact further, we are enhancing our voting guidelines to also vote against the entire Nominating and Governance Committee if a company does not add a woman within three years’ time. Implemented on a rolling basis, enhanced guidelines will go into effect for companies in the US, UK and Australia in 2020 and for companies in Japan and Canada in 2021.
As we have so far, we will continue to engage with companies in the hopes that they will take positive action. Our preference continues to be constructive engagement, and we only take voting action as a last resort. But these companies should know: The clock is ticking.
In the months ahead, the Fearless Girl statue will be moving from her current location to a new longer-term home outside the New York Stock Exchange. There, she will provide a constant reminder to businesses and investors that women in corporate leadership positions are good for business.
The Fearless Girl won’t be standing still. And, at State Street Global Advisors, neither will we.
To learn more about Fearless Girl and gender diversity progress in corporate boardrooms, check out videos of State Street Global Advisors’ participation at the New Rules Summit:
Watch Cyrus Taraporevala’s “The Seat of Power” panel discussing the impact of Fearless Girl.
Watch Rakhi Kumar, Head of ESG Investments and Asset Stewardship, discuss our approach to stewardship on a panel entitled “The Business Case for Gender Diversity.”
1State Street Global Advisors Asset Stewardship Team, as of June 30, 2018
2State Street Global Advisors Asset Stewardship Team, as of June 30, 2018
3State Street Global Advisors Asset Stewardship Team, as of June 30, 2018
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