CEO at ‘Fearless Girl’ Company Says They’re Committed to Equal Pay After $5 Million Fine

By Patrick Coffee 

So you’re all aware that the Department of Labor fined financial advisory firm State Street Corporation $5 million last month for allegedly underpaying 305 women and 15 black employees during the years 2010 and 2011.

This news was especially noteworthy, of course, because the company’s subsidiary State Street Global Advisors was the sponsor of McCann New York’s “Fearless Girl,” the most exhaustively over-analyzed work of advertising in the last decade (at least).

Today, SSGA CEO Ron O’Hanley assured CNBC that his company is and has been committed to equal pay for equal work.

So that was pretty straightforward.

It’s also in keeping with what CMO Stephen Tisdalle told a panel at Advertising Week:

“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?’”

And so it has.

This is a bit of a complicated story, and few read past the headline about the company behind “Fearless Girl” agreeing to a multi-million dollar settlement.

SSGA is not the same organization as State Street Corporation, and the filing was based on data collected during a mandatory compliance review that happened because State Street is a federal contractor. In other words, it was not based on individual complaints made by the employees in question.

While the corporate org knew about the audit that started in 2012 and ultimately led to the fine, it’s not clear when SSGA’s leadership found out about the settlement. Most importantly, we don’t know whether they had any idea that this bombshell would drop when they commissioned McCann to set up Fearless Girl right across from Cipriani and that big bull.

But then O’Hanley didn’t get very specific in his company’s defense, either. And this story will forever remain a very good case study on the dangers of wrapping your brand’s message in social activism.

In old, sort-of-related news, aspiring sculptor Alex Gardega died earlier this month after being struck by a subway train on the Upper East Side. We bring him up because his lasting claim to fame will almost certainly be the small papier-mâché dog he placed next to the statue; it appeared to be peeing on her shoe.

We even interviewed him about it, and he said, “This is corporate fake feminism, and I’m totally pro-real feminism. That’s not what this sculpture is, and I thought I would enlighten [people].”