The Fearless Girl: State Street’s investment management division has installed a statue of a girl facing the Charging Bull statue in Manhattan’s Financial District to draw attention to the dearth of women on company boards and pressure the companies State Street invests in to take more concrete action to recruit women to their boards. It even said it would begin voting against companies that haven't shown a real attempt to improve gender diversity. “The Fearless Girl,” made by Kristen Visbal, was installed on the eve of International Women’s Day. "One of the most iconic images on Wall Street is the charging bull. So the idea of having a female sort of stand against the bull or stand up to the bull just struck us as a very clever but also creative and engaging way to make that statement," said Lori Heinel, deputy global chief investment officer of the $2.5 trillion asset manager. "Even though it's a little girl, her stance is one of determination, forwardness, and being willing to challenge and take on the status quo.” Gail Collins also wrote in a column for the New York Times that the statue honors the heroines who challenged the status quo by staying in place. “You feel pretty confident the bull is going to wind up backing down. And it reminds you that while marching is important, sometimes you can make a difference by standing still… If a crowd isn’t available, you have to do what you can. Even if it means standing down a bull, or refusing to get off a trolley.” Women still hold only 20% of the board seats and eight CEO jobs in the U.S. financial services industry.

A statue of a defiant girl stands facing the Charging Bull sculpture in the Financial District of New York. State Street Global Advisors installed the bronze statue.
A statue of a defiant girl stands facing the Charging Bull sculpture in the Financial District of New York. State Street Global Advisors installed the bronze statue. Bloomberg News

Seeking innovation in female networks: Many banks are increasing their innovation budgets. But Jennifer Openshaw says if you want to innovate, hire more women. In a BankThink piece this week, she cites research showing companies with more female leaders have a higher “innovation intensity,” which has resulted in an additional $40 million in worth compared with companies without women in top management roles. And networking is more important now than ever, according to Openshaw. While it is always crucial for women to build and tap into networks for their own career success, such networks are driving new innovations that corporate leaders can tap into as well. Furthermore, women may be good at collaboration but less frequently “take that courageous step to reach out to a CEO and make the ask” for an opportunity and it’s time to change that, Openshaw said.

Go outside your comfort zone; be authentic: Bank of America leaders Andrea Smith, chief administrative officer, and Cathy Bessant, chief operations and technology offer, shared memories of career-defining moments with the Charlotte Business Journal in time for International Women’s Day. Smith graduated college with an economics degree and on day one of her first job in 1988 as a project analyst at First RepublicBank in Texas (which was later acquired by Hugh McColl’s North Carolina National Bank, what is now B of A), was told the role had already been eliminated. “I said, ‘Well I just got here.’” She was asked if she wanted to become a computer programmer. After giving quitting some consideration, Smith decided to teach herself how to code and moved into a new role in technology and operations a year later. “What’s the worst that happens?” Smith said this week. “You may not like it but that’s actually a good thing as you are figuring out your career…You fail and you learn from that and you move on.” Bessant shared the most important career advice she’s ever received, which came after a career setback in the mid-2000s. Her then-boss said, “Cathy, people love your community work. Right now they don’t really love you in the bank so what I want you to do is figure out the difference and figure out how that person is actually the person who comes to work.” Bessant said that’s when she realized she was herself in her civic work but “modeling someone I thought I should be at the bank,” she said. “I say a prayer to those moments where what I wanted to do was run and find a new job and leave the people who wanted me to behave differently behind,” Bessant said, adding that she’s thankful she stuck it out to see what would happen.

Banking then and now: Smith also reflected on how the work environment for women in banking has changed since the start of her career. She credited Bank of America for its commitment to gender diversity and creating a culture where diverse points of view are sought. “If you go back to when I started… really it was what I would call a good ol’ boy club at FirstRepublic,” she said. “There were no women at the top anywhere.” Smith joked Wednesday at a ceremony for the Charlotte BusinessWoman of the Year that the bid to acquire First Republic was the “best deal” Hugh McColl Jr. ever made because it gave him Smith and Cathy Bessant. She later added, “Leaders are accountable to create environments where everyone can be heard and bring their whole self to work. You just make better business decisions. It is a business imperative to have that kind of diversity of thought and perspectives at the table.”

Thai banks lack men, except in the C-suite: In Thailand, women account for 57% of the workforce in finance and insurance industries. One Thai financial firm, BBL Asset Management, tries to achieve gender balance by making an effort to hire more men, said Voravan Tarapoom, BBL’s chairman. "Men probably look for more exciting and challenging jobs than the financial industry, where work requires more patience, detail, caution and rule compliance," she said. "They may feel financial industry work is so boring.” Kattiya Indaravijaya, president of Kasikornbank, Thailand’s biggest lender, said candidates for senior positions are almost always women. "I’m wondering, there’s no guy?" she said. "It’s not that they didn’t pass the screening process, they didn’t apply.” And yet, two thirds of senior management and executive roles are filled by men, indicating Thailand’s finance industry still struggles with gender equality. Across all industries, Thai women make up less than 10% of executive and management roles, said Joni Simpson, a specialist on gender, equality and non-discrimination at the International Labor Organization.

Startups also short on C-level women: Silicon Valley Bank released a report finding 68% of 950 startups surveyed have no women on their boards and 53% have no women in the C-suite. Only 28% of startups have a program in place that strives to grow female leadership. “We expected to see more women in leadership positions this year, and instead our survey shows how little progress is being made,” said Claire Lee, managing director and head of SVB’s Early Stage Practice. “We cannot be deceived by our seemingly large network of talented and successful female founders, investors, board members and innovators. The data show us these women remain a lonely minority in the technology world.”

Role call

Yolande Piazza has been named head of Citi FinTech, replacing Heather Cox, who left last year. Piazza, who had been acting as interim chief, was previously chief operating officer of the bank’s fintech unit.

KeyCorp has hired Virginia Kuper to lead the private banking business in the Hudson Valley and metro New York markets. She previously worked at Wells Fargo Private Bank, where she served as a regional manager in the metropolitan New York market for more than three years.

Customers Bancorp in Wyomissing, Pa., is selling its digital banking unit, BankMobile, to Flagship Community Bank in Clearwater, Fla. for $175 million. Luvleen Sidhu, a co-founder of BankMobile, will retain her roles as its president and chief strategy officer.

Beyond banking

Sterling Jewelers, the parent of Kay Jewelers and Jared the Galleria of Jewelry, faces a 2008 class action lawsuit alleging pay and promotion discrimination from about a dozen employees. Marie “Micki” Wolf said she joined Sterling in 2012, put in long hours, happily, and was consistently a top performer in her store, raking in more than $1 million in jewelry sales a year. Eventually, she learned the men in the store with less experience and lower sales volumes were paid more and not subjected to other forms of gender discrimination she observed. “I will feel so much better when I can sit down in front of a judge and tell her my story,” Wolf said. “I’m excited. These women are finally saying, ‘No, you can’t do this to us.’” The women, who filed a case that went to arbitration, have been barred from talking openly about their stories for the last nine years and were relieved when confidential statements were made public this week. That’s the problem with arbitration: it presents an effective way to shush women and let gender inequality and harassment live on by mandating statements be kept confidential, whereas some court records are made public. “We didn’t want this just to be a slap on the wrist: Give us some cash and we’ll go on our way. We wanted them to make changes,” said Dawn Souto-Coons, one of the original dozen women to file the suit. “I always knew I would never give up. I always knew that no matter how long it took, I would stay with it.”

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