A new statue of a resolute young girl staring down Wall Street's famous Charging Bull was erected by a major asset managing firm for International Women's Day to make a point: There's a dearth of women on the boards of the largest U.S. corporations.
State Street Global Advisors, the Boston-based investment giant, had the statue created to push companies to increase the number of women directors.
Artist Kristen Visbal's "Fearless Girl" drew crowds Wednesday that initially came to pose for pictures with the bull, but the novelty quickly became a New York hot spot.
The girl is sculpted in bronze, her hands firmly planted on her waist, ponytailed head held high.
"Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference," reads a plaque at her feet.
"As a steward of nearly $2.5 trillion of assets, we want to engage with boards and management around issues that we think will drive core results," said Lori Heinel, State Street's deputy global chief investment officer. "And what you find repeatedly is having more diverse boards and more diverse senior management will actually drive better results for companies."
Twenty-five percent of the Russell 3000 — a broad index of U.S. companies — have no women on their boards, according to State Street, which manages many of their assets.
According to ISS Analytics, a business research firm, just 16 percent of board seats on companies in the Russell 3000 are held by women; the average board of directors has eight men and one woman.
"It's going to happen to the end of time unless you change something," says Erik Gordon, a lawyer and professor at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business. "It's got to not just be the rules. It's got to be the culture."
State Street has three women on an 11-member board. Heinel said her company also will urge those in Great Britain and Australia to add women to their leadership.
One man working in corporate America needed no convincing.
Chandrasekar Sundaram says a woman is the CEO of the company he works for in Texas, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and has quite a few women reporting to her.
"But when it gets to 50 percent, that's when I think it'll be right," said Sundaram, a Dallas resident and native of India who was visiting New York with his family — with the Charging Bull as one of their stops.
The mammoth bronze was a "guerrilla art" act, dropped in the middle of the night in Bowling Green Park in 1989 without permission, by an artist who created it as a symbol of Americans' survival energy following the 1987 stock market crash. The city gave its permission for the bull to remain.
This week, McCann New York, a top advertising agency, installed the statue of the girl before dawn Tuesday — with a city permit for one week. Negotiations are underway for the piece to remain longer.
Why choose the Charging Bull as the site to place the girl?
"Well, we really wanted the bull to have a partner, and a partner that we thought was worthy of him," Heinel said. "And so we got a very determined young woman who is fearless and is willing to drive the change that we believe we need."
Sundaram's 8-year-old daughter, Sankaribriya, got the message.
She wanted to pose with the sculpted girl "because I just wanted to look at her and wanted to feel like her."
Associated Press Markets Writer Marley Jay contributed to this report.