State Street Corporation, the investment management firm behind New York’s Fearless Girl statue, got an estimated $13 million in free publicity and some success in pushing companies to add women to their boards of directors.
In 2016, State Street launched its Gender Diversity Index exchange-traded fund (ETF) called SHE, an investment fund devoted to gender-diverse companies. Then, on International Women’s Day 2017, it installed a statue of the Fearless Girl staring down the Charging Bull in New York City’s Financial District.
However, a report by Madison Sargis from Morningstar, an investment research company shows that between July 2015 and June 2018 SHE either voted “No” or abstained on eight out of 10 shareholder resolutions related to gender diversity.
SHE voted against the following resolutions: diversity playing a role in CEO compensation, including diversity as a CEO performance metric, and a report on gender, racial, and ethnicity compensation disparities.
State Street voted for what appeared to be safer proposals that were generally more popular among shareholders. For example, it supported the disclosure of workforce gender and race data from Lam Research Corporation, which had 77 percent support. And it abstained twice on these two other proposals that had relatively strong support among shareholders: an employment diversity report at Home Depot and a report on gender, racial, and ethnicity compensation disparities at TJX Companies.
Morningstar compared SHE’s votes to two other gender-focused funds, the Glenmede Women in Leadership US Equity Portfolio and the Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Leadership Fund, which always voted for diversity and pay equity proposals.
According to a State Street spokesperson, the company does not simply consider the topic being addressed in a shareholder proposal when deciding how to vote; rather they vote on a case-by-case basis, taking into account each company’s unique circumstances and the level of disclosure relative to their expectations.
State Street has been criticized before for issues that appeared to be in conflict with its Fearless Girl campaign. In late 2017, the firm paid $5 million to settle with more than 300 female employees who were paid less than their male colleagues. A Department of Labor audit uncovered the gender-based discrepancies in compensation.
State Street’s Fearless Girl campaign was launched with a call for companies to improve women’s representation on their boards. One of the two proposals that SHE fund voted in favor of was a board-related shareholder resolution which Morningstar sees is in line with the company’s signature campaign issue. But Sargis argues that the proposals which State Street voted against such as pay equity and linking executive compensation to diversity help develop the pipeline of female talent that can feed companies’ boards later on.
The Fearless Girl statue has moved from in front of Wall Street’s Charging Bull sculpture to a permanent home outside the New York Stock Exchange. There is also another Fearless Girl statue outside the London Stock Exchange.