Financial Firm Behind ‘Fearless Girl’ Will Pay $5 Million for Allegedly Underpaying Women and Minorities

State Street's subsidiary had been the year's most celebrated champion of diversity

Fearless Girl by State Street Global Advisors and McCann New York dominated ad award shows this year. Getty Images
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

State Street Corp., parent company of the investment firm behind Wall Street’s iconic Fearless Girl statue, today agreed to pay a combined $5 million to more than 300 women and 15 black employees who were paid less than their white, male counterparts, according to a federal audit. Bloomberg first broke the news.

According to today’s filing, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs audited the bank starting in late 2012 based on data concerning the years 2010 and 2011. On March 31 of this year—the same month Fearless Girl debuted on Wall Street—the government first informed State Street of “corrective actions required.”

The audit concluded that, since “at least December 1, 2010,” the company had discriminated against women in senior-level roles like vp, svp and managing director by paying them lower base salaries, bonuses and total compensation than their male colleagues. The OFCCP’s analysis also found that State Street did the same to 15 black employees at the vice president level.

State Street officially denies the claims, according to the conciliation agreement released today. The $5 million settlement total includes approximately $4.5 million in back pay and $500,000 in interest.

“State Street is committed to equal pay practices and evaluates on an ongoing basis our internal processes to be sure our compensation, hiring and promotions programs are nondiscriminatory,” said a State Street spokesperson in a statement today. “While we disagreed with the OFCCP’s analysis and findings, we have cooperated fully with them, and made a decision to bring this six-year-old matter to resolution and move forward.”

As a federal contractor, the company is subject to regular audits from the Department of Labor. The settlement also requires the company to conduct compensation analysis for all employees at the levels of those involved in this case every year for the next three years.

State Street’s large payout over allegations of gender and racial pay imbalance comes at an especially awkward time for its subsidiary State Street Global Advisors, whose Fearless Girl campaign has dominated advertising awards shows since debuting in March of this year.

The Fearless Girl statue, created by agency McCann New York (which declined to comment for this article), faces down Wall Street’s famed Charging Bull statue. It was a symbol created by State Street Global Advisors to celebrate women in leadership and encourage investment in corporations with women in top positions. It quickly became the financial world’s most iconic symbol of gender equality and won 18 honors at the prestigious Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, including four Grand Prix top honors.

But the client has been candid in acknowledging that Fearless Girl, or any marketing effort that celebrates a commitment to diversity, can be vulnerable to criticisms from those who feel the campaign’s creator hasn’t made enough progress.

During a recent Advertising Week panel moderated by Adweek managing editor Stephanie Paterik, State Street Global Advisors CMO Stephen Tisdalle discussed the inherent risks of Fearless Girl.

He told the audience: “Do we as an organization reflect the penultimate makeup and reflection in being a diverse organization? No. And that was a risk because a lot of the people felt the message might be diluted by a lot of cynical people saying, ‘Well who are you to talk about gender diversity when you’re not a perfect embodiment of it?'”

He continued: “What I would say to that is we had a foundation we could go back to to say why we did Fearless Girl, and no matter what anybody said, no matter what rocks were thrown, we could say, ‘You’re right, but this is the way we invest, this is the way the world needs to invest, this is a human moral value. How can you argue against it? We have to be doing better ourselves. She’s as much an inspiration to our organization as she is to the world.”

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.