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Turns Out The Fearless Girl Statue Was Just Another Empty Symbol

07/10/2017 3:56 AM AEDT | Updated 07/10/2017 3:59 AM AEDT
Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
The 'Fearless Girl' statue which stands in front of Wall Street's Charging Bull statue is seen in New York, U.S., March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio poses next to the Fearless Girl statue in New York on March 27, 2017.

When the Fearless Girl statue was erected on Wall Street, facing off defiantly against the Charging Bull, she was hailed as the ultimate in female empowerment ― “a powerful symbol,” tweeted New York City Public Advocate Letitia James. Crowds flocked to see her.

As it turns out, the bronze statue was a symbol ― not of girl power, but of the empty corporate feminism that Wall Street has managed to turn into an art form and that first daughter Ivanka Trump has ridden all the way to the White House.

On Thursday, State Street, the $2.6 trillion dollar investment firm that funded Fearless Girl and unveiled her to great fanfare on International Women’s Day in March, agreed to shell out $5 million to settle claims that it pays its female and black executives less than white men at the firm.

The back pay will go to 305 female senior executives and 15 black vice presidents who worked in a State Street office in Boston. The firm also has to submit a thorough analysis of its pay and agree to fix any other discrepancies, according to a settlement agreement with regulators from the Department of Labor. The agreement covers pay at the firm from 2010 to 2012, when the federal audit began.

It wasn’t hard to see this coming. Sure, State Street said all the cool girl power things when it unveiled Fearless Girl, claiming in a statement that she represented “the power of women in leadership and the potential of the next generation of women leaders.”

The trouble was, there weren’t ― and aren’t ― many women in leadership at State Street. Only three women sit on its 10-member board of directors. And of the 28 executives on its leadership team, five are women, one of whom appears to be black. All 23 men are white.

Those stats are pretty much in line with the rest of the finance industry. Just 5 percent of CEOs in the finance world are women, according to data from the nonprofit Catalyst. And 29 percent of senior executives are women. The stats on black executives are way, way worse. At the three largest banks, less than 3 percent of executives are black. And according to a recent report in Bloomberg, they’re losing ground.

The finance industry doesn’t pay much mind to its rather stunning lack of black employees, but it does talk a big game about women. Nearly every day, the big banks and investment firms send HuffPost reports, data, analysis and offers of expert commentary on gender diversity.

Many have fancy, well-funded programs devoted to women. Goldman Sachs, for example, has a program called 10,000 Women that’s targeted at entrepreneurs. And of course, the bank has a blog and webpage devoted to women.

Cool, I guess. Meanwhile, there are two women on Goldman Sachs’ board and nine men. There appears to be only one black person. Eighty percent of the firm’s executive officers are men.

In 2017, it’s hard not to look at this hypocrisy and see its echo in the White House. Ivanka Trump, who invented the meaningless hashtag #WomenWhoWork and wrote a book about how much she cares about women, is working for an administration with a historically low number of women in power that is purposefully dismantling women’s rights.

Just on Friday, the Trump administration said it would roll back a key provision in the Affordable Care Act that required companies to offer birth control as part of employees’ health insurance.

Meanwhile, if employees without birth control get pregnant, they probably won’t get any paid time off to take care of their kids.

Anyway, back to Wall Street: This may sound crazy, but it’s actually not hard to “empower” women in the workplace. You don’t need to start a fund for female entrepreneurs or send money to coding programs in high schools ― though that’s nice.

Here’s the secret: You hire more women.

Seriously. That’s huge. You can’t talk about equality for women when you don’t employ them in anything like equal numbers. And once you hire these women, you also pay them fairly and consider them for promotions. Maybe you train your managers to recognize the gender biases we all fall prey to at work ― like thinking women who talk in meetings are aggressive while men who do so are bold and smart. 

Oh, and you definitely tell male executives not to shower in front of the women who work for them.

Not on the above list? Erecting statues. 

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