You probably saw the debut of the ‘Fearless Girl’ statue in early March in New York City. The statue is of a young girl defiantly staring down the ‘Charging Bull’ and has been heralded by many as a symbol for women everywhere.
Many are now calling for the statue to be made a permanent fixture on Wall Street, while it will at least stay past its original removal date in April and into 2018 as of now. But are most people looking at this seemingly feel-good story missing something?
While the message might be nice, the statue is just really a sly (perhaps too sly) ad by State Street. This has been totally overlooked by most, even though the advertising aspect of this statue has been right at their feet (literally).
There is a plaque at the statue’s feet that reads “Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.” While seemingly just a statement advocating for women in leadership positions, those in the Exchange-Traded Fund industry—and also those asking why State Street would do this?—will know it is something beyond that. That is because ‘SHE’ is of course the symbol for State Street’s SPDR Gender Diversity Index ETF (SHE - Free Report) .
What is SHE?
The fund, which made its debut just in time for International Women’s Day in 2016, tracks a benchmark of companies that are gender diverse, and which have higher numbers of women on their board of directors and in executive leadership positions than their peers.
Those that are in top 10% for ratios of women-to-men in their executive leadership positions are included, and all included companies must have at least one woman on their boards, or in the CEO position. Top holdings include Pfizer (PFE - Free Report) , Pepsi (PEP - Free Report) , and Amgen (AMGN - Free Report) , giving the fund a focus on blue chip stocks, but with a bit of a tilt towards health care and consumer names relative to the S&P 500 too.
The idea behind the fund being that companies that have more diverse leadership from a gender perspective will outperform their less diverse peers. A novel idea, and one that follows in the footsteps of a far less popular ETN from Barclays, the Women in Leadership ETN (WIL - Free Report) .
This is actually a rare case in which the first mover in a given space isn’t the most popular product, and I think you can argue at least part of it is due to SHE’s superior marketing team. This is especially true given that SHE has actually easily underperformed (SPY - Free Report) over the past year, and from a YTD look as well.
Why the statue now?
While also sending a nice message, to think that State Street would have done this without having SHE in its fund lineup, just doesn’t seem likely. If so, why didn’t they debut this years ago? And at the same time, it was a stroke of genius to not try and put the statue out last year when the fund launched, as that clearly would have been seen as an ad.
So, by putting out the statue this year, State Street gets a feel-good story in the news about an in-focus issue, and apparently, the chance for their statue/ad to be face-to-face with one of the most iconic images in all of American finance. No matter what you think of the statue, that is an incredible achievement.
If anything though, the ad may have been too subtle, as most don’t even seem to understand that this is tied into the company’s ETF, or care to be asking why State Street would do something like this in the first place. But State Street, to their credit, has noted it right on the fund home page for SHE (right at the top), so it isn’t like they are completely pretending this isn’t an advertisement either. People just seem to be willfully ignoring the fact that this is an ad disguised as a social commentary.
What do others think?
The artist of the bull sculpture in New York isn’t too happy about the Fearless Girl’s placement either. In a recent Marketwatch interview, he decried the Fearless girl statue and noted about his bull creation , “I put it there for art. My Bull is a symbol for America. My bull is a symbol of prosperity and for strength.”
Can we really say the same thing about an Exchange-Traded Fund ad, no matter what its underlying message might be? I am not sure that we can.
I asked my colleague, Madeleine Johnson, for some perspective on this issue, and she stated that ‘I agree with you, it is 100% an advertisement, but perhaps it is on its way to transcending that label. Sure, the Wall Street Bull is an iconic American symbol, but why can’t this statue of a little girl be one too? Gender diversity is important, especially in the finance industry.’ She also noted that, ‘Right now, we have the opportunity to picture the Fearless Girl statue as more than just an ad for the SHE ETF, as representing more than just a clever and cunning marketing placement. We should take that opportunity.’
Maybe that is the real point of this ad, and why it has caught on so quickly, and why so many have let the advertising nature of the piece slide in the end.
Gender diversity is important, but I don’t think supporting an ad is the best way to make it come about. Instead, copying those with the best practices, or even taking a closer look at SHE if you want to invest in companies that are doing more than most to promote women in leadership, might be more effective in promoting gender diversity in the long run.
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