- In the eyes of the world “Fearless Girl” – the bronze statue of a defiant girl in front of the Wall Street bull – is the biggest marketing coup in recent history. Not for Hannah Grove.
- In this interview with Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget, the State Street CMO talks about how Fearless Girl represents a call for greater governance and stewardship by women.
- She also describes the material impact that the statue has had in the workforce, and how everyone needs to be the CEO of their own brand and advocate for themselves.
- Grove also talks about how the lack of gender diversity in the workforce is self-perpetuating problem.
- Grove never went to college and believes it shouldn’t be a prerequisite either. Instead, people should be evaluated on their core capabilities, she says.
- She’s also opposed to the instinct to conform in the corporate world, and advocates for people to be true to themselves and be authentic, and not be someone that they’re not.
Following is a transcript of the video; it has been edited for clarity.
Henry Blodget: Take us back. What was “Fearless Girl“? Where did the idea come from? How did it work out?
Hannah Grove: Well, I’ll actually tell you one of the little-known secrets about Fearless Girl: Behind Fearless Girl are some extraordinary fearless men. So the credit for Fearless Girl goes to State Street Global Advisors – I want to make that very clear – their CMO, Stephen Tisdalle, but also Ron O’Hanley, who’s our president and about-to-be CEO, and Jay Hooley, our current CEO. If we go back to when she arrived on the eve of International Women’s Day, I think there was something of a zeitgeist moment, you know, sort of postelection, a feeling that we’ve come so far, and yet. And at the same time, she’s particularly effective because she’s not a marketing strategy. Ron O’Hanley had made a call a few days prior about the need to increase women on corporate boards. The statistics are very bad: More than 25% have no women whatsoever. So it was a call for greater governance and greater stewardship, and that’s what she stands for.
Blodget: So let’s talk about the motive and mission – the absence of women on so many boards – in a minute. But first, you say it’s not a marketing event. But this is described as a marketing coup. Fearless Girl created a huge splash, tons of what is described as earned media. She was supposed to be there for a couple of days, but now she’s going to get a permanent home by the New York Stock Exchange. Girls from all over the world come to admire her. Was this a tremendously successful marketing event as well?
Grove: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you hit it right when you said the amount of earned media that she generated and also, of our 37,000 employees, the sense of pride that it also generates in terms of what she stands for. So I think how things have transpired, as you’ve said, she will be getting a permanent home opposite the New York Stock Exchange, which to me is perfect because Stacey Cunningham is now at the helm of that organisation and she’ll face off and remind those companies about the need for greater diversity. But yes, it’s a marketing coup, no question.
Blodget: And so the goal was to, at least increase awareness of the problem of the lack of women on boards. So why is it that we want more women on boards? Why does that help?
Grove: Yeah, well, let me start [off by saying that it’s] not just for the sake of it and not just to tick a box. There’s empirical and scientific research that shows that greater diversity of thought, of experience, of gender, gets greater results. I mean, there’s study after study, and yet it’s an area that we haven’t really broken through. One of the problems is typically, when you look at board profiles, the search for them will go to C-Suites, and you and I both know those C-Suites are largely male-dominated, and so the problem is this self-perpetuating one. If we can expand the aperture and look as much at experience and capabilities equally, we’ll be able to get a more balanced slate. But more and more companies are, to use that phrase, sort of leaning into it. And certainly since we launched Fearless Girl, when we reported on her a year later, more than a 135 companies have added a woman to their boards that hitherto hadn’t had one. So we are seeing progress.
Blodget: And what is the specific value? You talk about diversity. Why is that better, and what is it that the gender diversity is bringing that makes a company perform better?
Grove: It’s all about having different perspectives and opinions. We know all too well and we have myriad stories of companies that begin to believe, you know, their own shtick. Companies that look in the microcosm that is their own, and then don’t look outside. And that’s why you always want to have balanced perspectives and experiences. And having that reflected through gender, through ethnicity, through sexual orientation, will absolutely get a better result. And to your question, it will get a better bottom-line result as well and companies perform better. So it’s good for shareholders; it’s good for the outcomes that the company creates.
Blodget: And you mentioned the phrase “lean in.” This comes from a famous book that Sheryl Sandberg wrote five years ago, somewhere around there, which really had a huge impact. But this week, there was a study that came out that said actually leaning in may be hurting some people in their careers because it makes it feel like it’s your career, it’s your fault if you’re not at the top, when in fact it’s the patriarchy that’s holding everybody down and keeping women out and down. So which is it, and what is the best advice for women and companies? How do you build that diversity?
Grove: Honestly, Henry, the best piece of advice that I’ve ever got in terms of career management was that the person who will have the most influence on your career is you. Each one of us is our own brand. You know, you’re sort of CEO of Hannah Grove Inc. And I believe that it’s my responsibility to push myself forward, and no one else is really going to do that for me. So I do subscribe to this tenet of going after what you want, but I have a slightly different twist on it, insofar as, I do think enormous pressure is put on women to feel that they should be doing 8 million different things as well as being able – for those who choose to be – a mother and to be a wife.
We have to decide what makes sense for us, and really think about that very carefully before pushing ourselves too much. Do I think that sometimes it’s very difficult, whether or not it’s the patriarchy or the cards being stacked against you? Yes. But I also believe you know, you just have to be willing to manage your career, and push as hard as you can, and ask for help. I’m a big believer in also asking people to help. Reach out, get a sponsor, get a mentor. For me, I’ve used what I call this informal board of directors and like the values that I espouse for corporate boards is diverse, but also people that will always tell me the truth and keep me real because you need that in your life.
Blodget: And what does “push as hard as you can” mean in a large corporation? Where often, that is problematic in a lot of ways. The other thing Sheryl Sandberg talked about in her book is this idea that, in particular, women who are pushing as hard as they can are often perceived as aggressive in a way that a man never would be. How do you manage that?
Grove: I think that we get too caught up in our own heads, Henry. And if someone is going to see me as overly pushy and aggressive, that’s their opinion; they’re entitled to it. But I’m not going to let it hold me back, and I think pushing as hard as you can is also not about doing nothing, but talking about yourself and promoting yourself. It’s about what are the outcomes, what are the benefits, what is the value that you’re delivering. And really thinking about that, and being able to express it in a way that you can tie what you can do to with what a company needs to do and how you help drive that.
And I think often there’s a sense that we need to sort of subjugate our voices, or our opinions, and I say, you know, “Don’t do it.” If someone finds you pushy, that’s OK. I also tell women, there’s something called benevolence bias. I’m sure you’ve heard this a lot, where someone will say, “Well, you know, I’ve invited Hannah to the meeting because I thought it was important, you know, that she get that visibility.” But Hannah doesn’t have a role in the meeting. And I always say to women, if you don’t have a role in a meeting either don’t go or make sure that you ask a question to make sure that your voice is heard.
Blodget: And turning it on the other side, you remarked publicly recently, to quote, “More companies are offering parental leave; why aren’t men taking it?” Why aren’t they?
Grove: Honestly, it’s a question that I definitely posed on our “Listen” blog, because we offer equal parental leave, and yet, I still think there’s that sort of vestigial stigma. We saw the same, about 10 years ago when we really started to push flexible work arrangements. It’s better for us, it’s better for our team members, it’s something that everybody appreciates. Initially we saw a greater take-up from women because it started to be, well, flex work is something that women need, so well, wait a second, I have many male colleagues who have just as many balance issues that I do and yet they weren’t necessarily going after it.
And so what we did is we made flex work also manager-driven, that it thinks about, how do you load-balance the day best, how do you get the most out of a global team. And we started to see pick-up from both men and women. And for paternal leave, it’s just, we’re in a cycle in society, where I think it’s going to come around and we’re going to see more 50-50. But it’s just going to take some time.
Blodget: And what is the right amount of parental leave? I say this because you work for a tremendously successful company, you have tremendous responsibility for an organisation that is under all sorts of pressure to deliver great results, you need your team there. The idea, if it were professional sports team, to have somebody say, “Well, our clean-up hitter just had a baby – they will be back in 12 weeks.” That would be completely unacceptable. So how do you run, how do you balance both? How do you give people control, with a great family situation, but also run a team that is competing in this immensely competitive arena where you need everybody there helping you out?
Grove: Yeah, and that’s both men and women, and, ultimately, I’m going to give you an answer that perhaps you find not satisfactory – that I think it’s individual choice that matters the most. What’s going to make sense for you? Because if you feel like either coming back too soon or not being able to take time, it is going to distract you from being good at work, then that’s not going to work either. So it’s just finding that balance. Absolutely, you have to be practical, depending on what the roles are, but again, that applies for both men and women. So I can’t give you optimal time; it’s this length of time. I wish I could, but again it’s individual choice and it’s a discussion between the spouses as to what would work best.
Blodget: And is it reasonable for a company to say, “Look, you took a long time, and you took a sabbatical, and we needed to promote somebody else in the meantime”? Is that reasonable? Or again, is the expectation, ultimately, perfection? That you should be able to take a lot of time off and have the same kind of career as somebody who takes no time off and is working all the time?
Grove: It’s about what are you contributing and the talent strategy of the organisation. Because, again, if you have the right balance, and you’re able to make decisions that balance the needs of the employees with the need for the greater good, you’ll end with the right answers there. But each one is individual.
Blodget: Right. Let’s talk about marketing, which is what you run. State Street, incredibly huge organisation. Globally handles 10% of the securities that are traded on daily basis – enormous. So you have a huge responsibility here. Marketing is changing, as one CMO I’ve talked to recently said, faster than any time in the last 30 years. What works? How do you think? How do you market these days? Does TV still work, or are you putting everything into digital?
Grove: I start with authenticity. We’ve seen this huge shift, as you’ve said in terms of the exponential changes in marketing. But to me it’s very interesting, because in a way it’s come full circle. I grew up in a generation where it was very much this cathedral approach and you had the big brand and it was sort of top-downed to from on high. And now we’ve switched to much more of a marketplace experience. So if we think about what we do in our personal lives, how we consume information, how we get recommendations, I very much apply that in the B2B space in terms of, ultimately, it’s B2B to C. So we have to think of that end consumer.
But it also is about the right content to the right person at the right time. It’s very much like the business model that you have here. And so what the means is, my platform choices are driven by where our clients are, and what they care about. My primary goal is not to speak but to listen, to listen to what they’re doing. Digital now enables us to do that more than anything else, and thinking about how do we build information around a client to make them more successful, to give them greater insights, that’s where the core of our marketing is focused.
Blodget: And on the digital platforms in particular, everyone talks about the duopoly of Facebook and Google hoovering up 95% of the incremental spending every year. And yet there’s a lot of concern about the platforms because they are not as controlled as legacy media in terms of the kind of content. You have a brand that you need to protect. Do you worry about that and is context important?
Grove: Context is tremendously important. And to your questions, I think it’s a great one, particularly now. What we’ve tried to do is carve out again, we’ve looked at where our clients are, and honestly, it’s LinkedIn, it’s Twitter. We’ve also built our own platforms, our “Listen” blog, and that’s how we want to disseminate information, and as you rightly point out, control our brand in those spaces. A lot of companies – I mean, I think Facebook works for many many people, but at the same time a lot of brands felt, like, “I need to be there.” You have to look very carefully and think very carefully about what you want to get out of it, and, again, where your audiences are and follow them. And for us that’s not the case on Facebook.
Blodget: Let’s talk about you. There’s an amazing story starting with something that’s often a debate, particularly in the technology industry these days, around college. Is college worth it? It’s so expensive; it’s four years. Some people say, the one thing you need to do for your career is go to college. Other people say it’s a waste of time; go to work. You didn’t go to college and talked about that. Is that what you recommend to everybody: “Don’t bother”?
Grove: Well, Henry, if my daughter is watching, absolutely college is important. So, again, it’s up to everybody. And in my circumstances, I actually didn’t have the opportunity; it was just a convergence of unfortunate events, which meant that I had to start working very early. I left school when I was about 16 and a half, got a job, and about four years later, sort of fell into the marketing track. And once I got on that track, it’s very difficult to get off and say, “OK, let me now sit back and think about going to college.” It’s also interesting because I was brought up in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and that college ethos probably had less sizzle than it did when I moved to America, and people were really surprised. I remember because everybody in America goes to college, no matter what.
To answer your question directly, because I do think it’s a good one today, you know, we launched a program, “Boston Wins,” which was this partnership between our foundation and a lot of nonprofits that helped get kids through the continuum from elementary, to high school, to pre-college, to college. But also to look at alternate paths like skills training, because I do worry fundamentally about this issue we have with people incurring huge amount of debt and then getting out into the workforce. And maybe, not being able to recoup or find their footing. And then I also think that companies need to have a broader aperture around what they will consider. And it goes back to the point I made earlier around experience versus capabilities. If we can rate people more on their core capabilities as opposed to necessarily where they went to school, we might have a broader view of the types of people that we can attract into the workforce.
Blodget: And yet you make a passionate appeal to your daughter to go to college.
Grove: Well, I have a good excuse.
Blodget: OK, but as a parent, I want to think it doesn’t matter. And yet if my daughters were to say, “Dad, I’m just not doing that,” I would be terrified. So how do you get over that? And how do you not worry about it in life and go on to succeed?
Grove: So I think my daughter wants to pursue a career in medicine. So right now, she doesn’t have an option because I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure how confident I’d feel sort of lurching into the doctor’s office and having them disclose, “I learned this on YouTube.” It might be, you know, a slight take-back. But honestly, Henry, had she said to me, when she was making the decisions, either I wouldn’t mind taking a year or two out, which again isn’t really done here, and yet in Europe is quite normal to take a “gap year,” I would have been fine with it.
And if she said to me, I’m not sure I want to go, I would have been fine with it because the other thing is, you know, the one, there are many regrets I have about not having that friend group, if you will, that you make at college and maybe this sort of discipline around learning. But one of the things I think is always fuelled is perhaps a degree of intellectual curiosity, because I view everything I do as a learning experience. Sometimes I observe this lack of curiosity because there’s this sense of, well, “I know everything if I’ve been to college.” There are benefits, and it depends what you want to do in life.
Blodget: Mindfulness meditation. I read an entreaty from you that I should be doing this.
Grove: Yes, yes.
Blodget: I should be clearing my mind.
Grove: Absolutely, yes.
Blodget: Every day, and this is going to help me.
Grove: It is.
Blodget: Why do I want to clear my mind?
Grove: Well, more than ever, nowadays, you see, I have this thesis, and this is going to horrify you because I am actually a sort of a Luddite, because we’re so connected nowadays that we’re over-connected. And our ability to concentrate, to focus – when’s the last time you’ve actually read a physical book and really absorbed and took time?
And there’s so much going on in our heads. And you and I have similar roles in that we have to able to think creatively and to think abstractly, and what I would say is, meditation, just switching off. It’s five minutes a day just to sort of close your eyes and breathe. It can do wonders just for really opening your mind. And trust me, it does sound a bit new age. I’m going to have a dream catcher on one side, but I really believe it can change your outlook and change your perspective, because we’re – there are too many stimuli coming in.
Blodget: And to that point, you recently tweeted, “Put down your phone: You might maybe surprised by what you see.” What will I see? And should I preface this by saying, the chances of this happening are very low, but I am interested.
Grove: We’ll be confiscating them. I think you just take more attention, spend more time looking at people, making eye contact. You know one of my passions is travel, and I love to see things and see the world and I’m always amazed. I was on top of Haleakalā, in Maui, to see the sunrise, and it’s this incredible experience and I felt so privileged. But I couldn’t see it, because everybody was taking selfies and trying to record the moment. And I’m just wondering, if we experience the world live it actually might be a better place. Trust me, I love my phone, but too much time, it’s just not good, not a good idea.
Blodget: Fair enough. So Hannah, what is your advice for people who want to be as successful as you are?
Grove: Well, you’re very kind to say “as successful” because I’m still, you know, I’m still growing, I’m still learning. But my advice is to be yourself no matter what. Particularly in the corporate world, there’s this instinct to conform. And I say, don’t do it, be true to yourself, be authentic, don’t ever try to be someone that you’re not. And my other piece of advice is ask the questions, ask for the “why,” don’t be afraid to ask. Some people see it as a weakness, but keep on learning, keep on failing; that’s a really good thing. I would have an Olympic medal in failure, but I’ve learned so much for it. So that’s my advice.
Blodget: So just on that last point, because it’s so important because you’ve also said, “Take the risk or lose it forever.” How do you get over the pain and humiliation of failure, which go along with any risk or putting yourself out there. How do you get through that?
Grove: The way that I get through it is by owning it. So this has happened, but this is what I’ve learned from it. And I’ve been able to take A, B, and C, and because of that, when I do something like this again, it will be so much stronger. And it’s not spin because you have to own your failure, but today there’s so much time spent glossing over, you know, “It wasn’t me.” Just own it and move on, and don’t beat yourself up. I often think we’re our worst critics, and we need to get over that. And that’s a work in progress.
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