The $2.5 trillion investor behind a statue of a girl on Wall Street is tackling its own gender problem

State Street installed a statue of a girl on March 7 in front of the Wall Street bull in downtown Manhattan. Rachael Levy

A statue of a little girl standing defiantly in front of Wall Street’s iconic bull caught the public’s imagination this week.

The statue was installed by State Street Global Advisors, a nearly $US2.5 trillion investor and unit within State Street Corp., ahead of International Women’s Day.

Business Insider’s story on the statue has been read by over 1.2 million people. P
eople visited Wall Street to place pink, floppy “pussy hats” atop the head of the newly installed statue.

But State Street, like many money management firms, has a gender problem of its own. And while it has a better record than many, both in its industry and across corporate America, it recognises it needs to do more.

Women make up only one in five employees at the company’s investment unit, for instance. Only three of the firm’s 11 board members are women.

“We, like many companies, are lagging our goals,” Lori Heinel, State Street’s deputy global chief investment officer, told Business Insider earlier this week.

Looking at the company broadly, the gender makeup is closer to 50%, Heinel said, though not at more senior ranks. “If you get into the upper echelons, we are still a work in progress,” she said.

State Street is far from alone — women are missing across the investment industry — and by some measures, the company is ahead of its peers.

Here are some stats, according to a Morningstar study from last year.

  • Only one in five mutual-fund managers is a woman — a rate that hasn’t budged since 2008.
  • In the US, that number drops to one in 10 (making State Street progressive with its one in five figure).
  • The US a laggard, far behind countries such as Singapore (with a 30% rate for the make-up of women), Portugal (28%), and France (21%).

The investment management industry is “basically forgoing the talents of half of our population,” Heinel told Business Insider.

State Street is aware of the problem on its own turf and says it has been taking steps to improve. In 2014, the company made gender diversity “a major strategic focus,” establishing diversity goals and metrics to meet by the end of 2017, according to a spokesman. The company says it has exceeded its goals so far.

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Among its projects: The company’s investment unit is trying to recruit women (about 60% of interns last summer were female), and has rolled out a job search tool that is supposed to neutralise words in job descriptions that could be off putting to potential women applicants.

The company tries to keep interviews to facts- and skills-based questions to remove unconscious biases when hiring, Heinel added. Close to a third, or 30%, of hires globally were women in 2016, while 36% of exec promotions were women.

These efforts are grounded in a recognition that companies with strong female leadership outperform those lacking in gender diversity.

Last year, State Street launched an exchange traded fund (ticker: SHE) which invests in companies that have high levels of women on their boards and within senior leadership. The fund has attracted close to $US300 million in assets, and is invested in c

ompanies like Pfizer, PepsiCo and Amgen.

According to the marketing material for the fund, companies with strong female leadership (defined as having a board with at least three women or a higher percentage of woman than the average in the company’s country) deliver a 34% higher return than those without.

By that measure, State State, with three female board members, is ahead of the S&P 500 average.

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