Fearless Girl at Year 3: When Women Lead, Change Happens
It’s hard to believe three years have passed since the world met Fearless Girl. So much has changed since State Street Global Advisors installed the statue of a girl standing strong on Wall Street as a symbol of the power and potential of women leadership. As a result of this campaign to increase gender diversity in the boardroom, the number of companies in the Russell 3000 without a woman on their board has dropped from about 25% to just about 10%, and every company in the S&P500 now has at least one woman on their board. Major publications have credited Fearless Girl with taking the issue mainstream. And the conversation in boardrooms has almost completely changed.
The change is real. I know this because in engagements with companies in our investment portfolio across the globe, I’ve heard these conversations for myself.
So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on these last three years and ask, “What has Fearless Girl taught us? What has she taught me?” A few things come to mind:
Sometimes a Small Ask Can Bring Big Changes. It’s incredible to consider how a simple call for board action to add just one woman director to all-male boards could have such a lasting and profound effect.
Directors have moved from asking “why we need a woman” on the board to “why don’t we have a woman.” Companies are beginning to see the value not only of gender diverse leadership, but also of diverse thinking and its connection to performance across their organizations.
The campaign has also moved the issue beyond the boardroom. Fearless Girl has focused companies on diversity and inclusion across the organization, including how diversity impacts not only management but also pay parity, teams and company culture writ large.
And it has gone global — when we started, we focused on boards in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. Since that time, we have steadily expanded our gender diversity voting guidelines to Canada, Europe, Japan and now to Hong Kong and Singapore.
Women Draw Strength from Their Networks. When we started the Fearless Girl campaign, it was not uncommon to find that board candidates outside exclusive, often male dominated, networks weren’t being considered for board service.
Today, the search for women directors is getting easier. Board recruiters and director organizations have gotten into the action. They are organizing special training programs for women candidates and helping them get board ready. New networks and programs are being created to facilitate networking opportunities between women and CEOs/directors. Many women who never considered board service are now following their male counterparts into boardrooms.
Here again, the impact of the Fearless Girl has gone beyond the boardroom. Today, more is being done to support women in the workforce - from flexible work hours to job sharing. This benefits not only women but also men and raises awareness for the need for social equity in our daily lives.
The point is, as women, we can’t go at it alone. When it comes to these issues — we multiply our impact when we bring other women — and men — along.
Change Requires Resiliency. Perhaps the most important lesson that Fearless Girl has taught me is about the pace of change. For all the viral conversations and selfies that popped up in the immediate aftermath of her installation, we knew that this campaign was a marathon not a sprint — an important start.
To be sure, there’s a lot more to do. For all of our success, 51 percent of the companies we identified have yet to take action. And, we’ve seen a number of studies indicating that businesses are beginning to feel exhausted by environmental, social and governance issues such as gender diversity. Let’s not forget the pipeline problem epitomized by the low diversity levels in the C-Suite.
But change takes time. Only 36 months ago, there was widespread belief that changing the composition of corporate boards would be difficult, if not impossible. And let’s be clear: It was difficult- but change happened!
For me, the most important lesson of all is that, as women, if we want to make the change, we have to be the change. It’s no secret that the world of finance and business hasn’t always valued our voice as women. But if Fearless Girl has shown us anything, it’s that there is power in our voice — and we need to use it.
For our sake and for the sake of those who follow us, we need to see it through. We need to be more than fearless — we need to be tough, persistent and resilient.
This International Women’s Day, let’s remember: That’s how change happens. That’s where it starts. #FearlessGirl
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