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On a rainy morning in March 2017, workers installed a bronze statue of a young girl, with fists clenched on her hips, standing tall opposite the Wall Street bull in downtown Manhattan.
New Yorkers quickly recognized that Fearless Girl was more than just a new tourist attraction. State Street Global Advisors, one of the world’s largest asset managers, had strategically installed it on the eve of International Women’s Day to kick-start a campaign for gender diversity in America’s boardrooms.
Lori Heinel, its deputy chief investment officer, remains the most public voice of the $2.5 trillion asset manager’s efforts.
State Street’s widely used index funds serve as major pipelines of capital to public companies. The firm also formulated a Gender Diversity Index exchange-traded fund (ticker: SHE) to track the performance of companies that advance women in leadership.
By extension, the company has leverage to make demands of company boards on things that improve long-term performance and shareholder returns, such as diversity.
Since the campaign launched two years ago, Heinel has found that more than 300 of the companies State Street engaged with have added female directors to their previously all-male boards.
“Other major asset managers and asset owners have also started to advocate on behalf of having women in the boardroom,” Heinel said. “We count as many as $15 trillion in assets that are now taking a stand.”