International Women’s Day was marked by many symbolic gestures. One of these however stood out prominently. It was installation of an additional statue on Wall Street, right in front of the charging bull on the eve of International Women’s Day. The statue is of a Defiant Girl, both hands on her waist and looking fearlessly at the charging bull.
The statue designed by artist Kristen Visbal, was part of a State Street Global Advisers, campaign, in solidarity with the day’s demonstrators. SSGA is an asset management firm, which manages $2.5 trillion in assets. The gesture was symbolic in that SSGA petitioned 3500 companies to put more women on their boards to actualize gender diversity in top companies’ leadership structures.
Bringing it closer home, the African Development Bank did a report in 2015 on the place of women in boardrooms of top African countries. In their report, Kenya emerged the top among the region with 19.8% women board directors, followed closely by South Africa with 17.4%. Cote d’Ivoire has the lowest percentage of women in company boards at 5.1%.
The report acknowledges that majority of African countries have at least one woman in their board. However, one third of the 307 companies in the survey did not have women board members.
The World Economic Forum predicts in their Global Gender Gap report (2016) that it will take 2186 for the gender gap to be closed entirely. That is 170 years from now. Is this perhaps too far?
Ron O’ Hanley, the president and CEO of SSGA said in his interview with the Atlantic that the point of the defiant girl statue was not men versus women, rather, it was that, “where there once was just a you, now there’s a me, and we’re here together”. He supports diversity of thought in company leadership positions.
Some barriers to appointing women in company boards are lack of women role models, lack of confidence in women and the “old-boy” networks, fed by family, clan, school and business relations, as the AFDB report states.
Whether the statue will be permanently on Wall Street to pass the message of gender parity is something to be observed. Taking it to the individual, everyone should #BeBoldForChange, championing for gender parity in whatever way they can. You can start by taking the International Women’s Day pledge which we have embedded on this website.