In last May’s UR blog post about Fearless Girl and politics I wrote that a Village Voice article on the subject
won’t be the last word on the issue, mainly because there can never be a last word on the broader questions of artistic intent and integrity that are the main subjects of the piece.
Sure enough she is back, politics in tow again.
The Voice article on which I was commenting had its fair share of bullsh*t but digging deep into it I found the smallest of ponies. I found it refreshing that the paper used its old left voice, chastising State Street, the statue’s corporate sponsor, for standard issue corporate greed rather than relying on trendier charges based on new new left identity politics.
Even then State Street was in trouble with the feds over gender and race discrimination in compensation. But the Voice argued
(l)et’s leave aside State Street’s own recurring trouble with the law . . .
. . . going on to charge State Street with operating in the
grand Wall Street tradition is chasing profits wherever they may be found, a pursuit outside of moral distinctions.
It says something about the relative weights put on old left ideas versus identity politics nowadays that no one really cared much about the capitalism argument but that the feds made good on their discrimination charges. At the moment, identity is king, if you will excuse that term in this context.
The State Street Corporation, a financial services company that put the Fearless Girl statue on Wall Street to promote the importance of women working in corporate leadership roles, will pay $5 million after an investigation found that it underpaid female and black executives.
The company denies any wrongdoing but will pay as part of a settlement with the Department of Labor. Law360 reported on the payout earlier this week, and Bloomberg posted the text of the conciliation agreement online.
The press loves this of course since it not only fits the narrative but the story has embedded right in it a lovely little ironic hook that gives the story added zip: the sponsor of the brave little girl standing up to Wall Street’s overly masculine energies is itself outed as a sexist cabal. Or, as the New York Post put it: Fearless Girl or Fearless Beard?
But the irony never stops in today’s world. Like the taco wrapped in a gordita shell wrapped in a crepe wrapped in a pizza irony comes in endless layers. Here, while the press has mostly presented State Street as guilty as charged the bank continues to maintain that it did not discriminate in compensation, and that the settlement was done to put the matter behind them, in the now-routine legal fashion we have adopted on such things.
According to the conciliation agreement
State Street denies that it has . . . discriminated in any manner against any of its current or former employees on the basis of race, gender, or any other protected classification. . . This agreement does not constitute an admission or denial by State Street of any violation of . . . laws nor has there been an adjudicated finding that State Street violated or did not violate any laws.
Well, you say, that’s just the way the game is played. The feds had them dead to rights and it suited the purposes of all the parties, including those who allegedly faced compensation discrimination, to just settle.
It does not seem that clean a matter to me.
Recall that the females alleging discrimination carried the titles of Managing Director, Senior Vice President and Vice President, and compensation is significantly a matter of discretion and performance. Compensation is typically provided by means of a base salary plus bonus. Determining whether discrimination exists is no simple matter in a more rigidly structured personnel system comprised of defined grades and salary ranges. It gets more difficult when discretion plays a large role.
I wrote here about the extreme difficulty of demonstrating a Hollywood pay gap given that compensation at the level of stars is as far as one can get from a mechanistic approach. Compensation for a State Street Managing Director is not that unmoored from easy metrics but it tilts in that direction. It is akin to the Google problem: fire Jim Damore for his heretical views while trumpeting the virtues of “paying unfairly”, a somewhat loaded term that signifies a deep commitment to performance and perceived contribution, and which can easily result in two people in the same role earning dramatically different amounts. Google still seems to be trying to square paying unfairly fairly by its lights and paying unfairly unfairly by the fed’s lights.
Perhaps it is technically not all that difficult to locate and analyze the necessary data. I dunno. For its part the feds say they ran a regression analysis that demonstrated a “statistically significant disparity even when legitimate factors affecting pay were taken into account.” The agreement does not describe the methodology in detail and the actual analysis undertaken does not seem to be public. I’d be interested in seeing how DOL auditors make sense of things like performance evaluations, and whether these are cranked into the regression analysis. Meantime State Street ain’t spilling the beans either. They have put this behind them.