To say that State Street’s Fearless Girl statue caused a stir when it appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, in New York’s financial district significantly downplays the public reaction.
The bronze statue, unveiled in March, depicts a ponytailed young girl in a dress, with her hands on her hips, staring defiantly at the charging bull, the famously masculine Wall Street landmark. The piece was commissioned by the Boston company as part of broader effort by its investment arm to push for more women on corporate boards.
Images of the statue immediately went viral. National news outlets covered its unveiling.
Opinion writers questioned the meaning of the statue — and the corporate sponsorship of public art. It even inspired the reintroduction of legislation in Congress to promote gender equality in the boardroom.
“I think the minute she landed — the minute her feet touched the ground — I think everyone who was there thought, ‘This is something special,’ ” said Hannah Grove, the chief marketing officer at State Street who led the rollout.
“This is space that should have been made a long time ago.”
As banks struggle to define themselves — and their bigger purpose in society — in the wake of the financial crisis, Grove and her team this year accomplished something far more radical with the Fearless Girl: They caught the zeitgeist.
The statue drew attention to State Street’s diversity efforts, but it more importantly sparked a broader public conversation about what, exactly, is holding women back in the workplace — and how more women can make it to the top ranks.
Grove has her own take on the matter. After what she describes as unsuccessful stints as a stage actor and a singer in a rock band, she parlayed her passion for art and communication into a corporate marketing career.
After nearly two decades in the banking industry, she has found her footing as a senior executive.
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What led her to the top of the industry, she said, was staying true to her passion and — like the statue she helped promote — staying fearless.
“I feel very strongly around this vision of authenticity, whether it’s debunking the complexity of the industry, making it more acceptable or making it more transparent,” said Grove, who ranks as one of the Most Powerful Women in Banking for 2017.
“But also I want women in the industry to feel like they could be their true selves, and they don’t have to conform. All women are welcome in this industry of all backgrounds.”
The timing of the Fearless Girl statue’s unveiling probably could not have been better.
Not only have the ranks of women chief executives dwindled over the past year, but it was just a few months earlier that the nation’s first female candidate for president from one of the two major political parties suffered a stinging defeat.
“I think there was a huge sense of ‘Where to next?’ for women, generally, post-election,” Grove said, referring to Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
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While the Fearless Girl was well received, there was also significant backlash, with critics blasting it for blurring the line between public art and free corporate publicity.
The sculptor of the charging bull criticized the Fearless Girl statue, saying its presence distorted the meaning of his original work, which is supposed to represent prosperity and strength.
“There are always going to be detractors; there are always going to be naysayers,” said Grove, who insisted that the statue was not a “marketing ploy.”
Originally intended to stay up for a month, the Fearless Girl received a yearlong permit from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio not long after its debut.
It also attracted the attention of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat, who tweeted a photo of herself posing with the statue.
Grove said the impact of the statue is most visible when she sees young girls standing next to it. “I watch the young girls power pose next to her,” she said. “And I think yeah, absolutely that’s the message that should be sent.”