One thing we love is to hear back from our listeners. In this case, Danny's brilliant wife, Kim, was nice enough to give us the what for about some of our blind spots when talking about Corporate Feminism. Please read her response below, and if you'd like to chime in about this (or any other episode), consider yourself encouraged to do so.
I listened to your recent podcast regarding the Fearless Girl statue and I felt like there was a very different lens from which you could have viewed it. A big part of what struck me was what seemed to be this complete distrust of corporations throughout. Particularly, this conversation at the end.
Danny: Should we be cutting them some slack here or is it just an entirely a crass means of getting into our pocket books?
Megan: “it is also a big Wall Street Corporation with billions of dollars at their disposal to actually forward the rights of women. I am more likely to celebrate the baby steps of individual people who are working to recognize and support women in their everyday lives. I have a student who writes a paper pushing back against sexist language “you play like a girl.” I will celebrate the baby steps of those students. I am not inclined to celebrate the baby steps of corporations who could take much larger ones.”
Earlier in the podcast, you had discussed the Dove beauty commercials and had (I feel skeptically) talked about howeven though these commercials might be good, the company in the end is doing it to get their name out there. My question is this: what baby steps would you accept from a company with the so-called millions of dollars at their disposal?
First, I ask you to step back and consider that a company is not a faceless entity but is rather made up of living, breathing individuals. Second, consider that they are a system with an ingrained culture. That each of those individuals needs to change (and change is slow) in order for the larger corporation to change. And that the corporation is functioning within a society that has norms and values that are ingrained into each of us that are often slow to change as well. Those individuals might very well have good motives but be slow to change. Changing one individual is easy (or is it?). Changing thousands of individuals within a corporate culture can be difficult and slow. Not that this is an excuse.
But back to my original question of what would you consider a baby step for a company like State Street Global Advisors? Asking this question led me to wonder why would a big bad Wall Street corporation with only poor motives put up a statue of a fearless girl if that were the ONLY thing they were doing to promote diversity within their organization. So, I googled “State Street Global Advisors diversity.” And this is when this post is going to start sounding like a commercial for SSGA. I ask you to consider completely changing your world view (which I realize I am only inferring from the comments made in the pod cast) that corporations do everything only for profit and that they can’t do anything for good.
First, it took me about five seconds to find out that SSGA put the statue up in conjunction with the announcement that the company is advocating not just for the diversity of their own company but also gender diversity of the trillions of dollars of assets that it manages (which amounts to the assets of about 3,500 companies), many of whom have NO women on their boards. (You cited statistics about the number of women in leadership at SSGA and I did not take the time to compare these numbers to others in their industry but that would be a good exercise. I am willing to guess that of the top Wall Street firms, their numbers are actually pretty good. I digress.)
The statue was not just a hollow gesture but a symbol celebrating a movement within their company to impact (press, even) the leadership of thousands of companies whose assets they manage. I think that is a noble effort. And whether or not they are doing this for their own profit or for the greater good of society (more on that later), I think this is a bit more than a baby step. (1)
Further research on this topic lead to an article stating that “SSGA found in a study it conducted that 35% of public companies in the US have zero female directors on their boards, compared with 36% in the UK and 45% in Australia. The firm has a new set of guidelines giving 3,500 public companies about a year to increase diversity on their own before SSGA starts influencing their selection of board directors at the proxy level.” So, SSGA is attempting to influence the leadership of these firms not only through telling them it is a good thing to do but also by impacting the actual votes about their boards.
At this point, you might still be skeptical that maybe they are just doing this for publicity. But this is not the first time that this company has taken a stand on doing what is right for the long-term sustainability of the companies it manages- and the world they impact. Since 2014, it has been pushing for corporate responsibility on an environmental level as well. As the third largest manager of assets in the world, they are positioned to have a big impact on the way businesses function around the world. Recently, they have increased these efforts as well. Their CEO, Ronald P. O’Hanley, sent a letter to “companies in the US, UK and Australia reinforcing the importance for boards to consider the impact of environmental and social sustainability issues on their long-term performance. Included was our framework for boards to evaluate and communicate how these risks and opportunities can affect long-term strategy.” In the letter, he encourages the boards to consider ”board leadership and board composition, diversity and talent development, safety issues, and climate change. (2) Just think if you read between the lines you find a mix between “this is good for business” and “this is the right thing to do for everyone,” and by everyone, I mean the world.
So, in summary, it is easy to be skeptical about companies and their motives. But there is a growing movement within corporations to focus on corporate social responsibility. And this must start at the top. I don’t know anything about Ronald P. O’Hanley, but I certainly would like to have dinner with him. Because his company put up a statue that people are enjoying taking selfies with, sure. And maybe that seems like a hollow gesture both on the part of the selfie takers and the company. But if you take a few minutes and look a bit deeper, you see the 3rd largest asset manager in the world (who we all like to criticize because of recent corruption) who has investing responsibility to advance economic prosperity and social progress as their mission. And they have taken a stand and are working to influence not only the diversity and environmental impact of their own company but also that of 3,500 other organizations around the world. Companies who, in turn, employ millions (or more) of individuals, donate money to community organizations and have an impact on the communities in which they operate. I consider this much more than a baby step, which they seem to take very seriously.
The Sectarian Review Podcast is hosted by Danny Anderson, who is an Assistant Professor of English at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, PA.