On Dreaming and Practice: Donna Lopiano, Defender of Women's Rights for Four Decades

On Dreaming and Practice: Donna Lopiano, Defender of Women's Rights for Four Decades

I call Donna “the Mother Teresa of gender equity in sport” because she selflessly and tirelessly serves the invisible, the under-resourced, and/or embattled. A true changemaker uses their talents for what is needed, and Donna has consistently shown us that this is who she is. Just how far we have to go to reach gender equity in sport is more alive a topic than ever since we heard the testimonies from the Olympic gymnastics team in January.

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Degrading the Fearless Girl: Why People Lean on Misogyny for Progress

On May 29th 2017, an artist created and positioned a urinating dog, “Pissing Pug,” next to the “Fearless Girl” statue situated in front of the famous Wall Street “Charging Bull.” 

He said his goal was “spreading awareness about the corporate origins of the statue” and to highlight the negative aspects of Wall Street. A nod that we need to move away from the greedy origins of Wall Street and do away with these corporate types all together. 

Looking at the piece, I wonder: Why did this male artist wait for a female-commissioned piece of a little girl to make his statement? 

A dog, in a degrading act, towards a young girl is appalling, but it also speaks to a bigger issue in movement building. Misogyny, hatred towards women and/or girls, is common in movements because there is still a lack of understanding of intersectionality and how change can be created for the benefit of all, including the lived experiences of all. 

Let’s look at the history of both statues. State Street Corporation (which has a gender lens investing initiative) commissioned the “Fearless Girl” piece in honor of International Women’s Day, though it wasn’t a permanent fixture. There was much uproar around the statue. The Charging Bull’s creator expressed his dismay, as well as many people calling it an advertising ploy or feel good act for companies who exclude women. I was one of the people who saw this artwork as an amazing opportunity to open up the dialogue around the capital that women own as well as the fact that we need more women in financial boardrooms. 

In contrast, the Charging Bull was paid for by the artist and put up after the 1987 stock market crash as a symbol of the people’s strength and power. If that were truly the case, however, if that were truly a value we hold dear, the Fearless Girl would simply be an addition to that—a symbol of women’s strength and power to the investment industry that the bull has come to represent. 

According to a 2017 Catalyst report, women hold just 29 (5.8%) of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. A 2015 Morningstar report cited by The World Economic Forum found that women manage less than 2% of mutual fund assets and “nearly two thirds of the top 71 Silicon Valley venture capital funds have no senior female investment professionals, according to the Social & Capital Partnership. I could continue, but the picture is clear: Women are not part of the high level conversations around investments. The investment industry desperately needs women’s strength and power. 

A 2009 study from the Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy tells us that “women will inherit 70% of the money that gets passed down over the next two generations” (excludes the increasing amounts they earn on their own) and women already own more than half of the investable assets in the U.S. Our money is good enough to trade, make more money off, and reinvest, but adding us to the (white male) boy’s club is taking far too long. What’s the problem with “Pissing Pug?” Instead of addressing the real issues with Wall Street, it was easier for this artist to undermine art that is speaking to millions and helping to bring about important changes in a male-dominated industry. Women should not be used as a prop to push an agenda. They should be a critical part of the conversation and be driving the conversation. Like the system or not, we have every right to it and a say in where our money is going and what’s been done with it. 

Many companies and initiatives, such as Pax Ellevate FundEquileapEconomic Dividends for Gender Equality (EDGE) or State Street’s Gender Diversity ETF, are changing the narrative about women, leadership and investing. If we continue to dismiss women leaders or push women aside, which the dog statue undoubtedly does, no true change can occur with how, where, and to whom our money goes.

Eight Principles for Systemic Change

Philanthropists and leaders take on issues that they want to change.  Using our time, talent and treasure, we want to make a positive impact on people’s lives and society.   We have witnessed the years  it often takes to better the world whether it is to addressing the trafficking of children, lifting up the economic power of women,  building a culture that accepts women athletes, allowing anyone who loves another to marry who they choose, etc.  These victories (albeit some of them still a work in progress) are stellar to witness done well.   Serious change happens for the good when people focus on these key principles. 

1.     Be persistent and passionate.  Find as many ways to restore and renew your passion as possible.  Energy for the long game is a necessary ingredient. 

2.     Remove the ego and attack the issue.   Focus on the issue and not about any one organization claiming the victory.  

3.     Use the legal system.  Oftentimes it is the laws and policies that are written and/or enforced that need to be upheld that will have the broadest impact on the highest number of people.  Investing in advocacy and policy work is a game changer for most issues.. 

4.     Collaborate and play team.  Find likely and unlikely partners who will share in the work and are willing to keep the focus on the change you all seek to make. 

5.     Hire top level experts.  When necessary, outside researchers, policy leaders or spokespeople can shape and craft messages and garner new audiences. 

6.     Gather hard data to share.  By using quality research and facts that can’t be dismissed, the emotion about the issue can be dampened.  Let the numbers tell the story and now with infographics, the images can bring the data to life. 

7.     Leverage every outlet for storytelling.  Social media gives ample opportunity to showcase the ‘stories’ and people who make the issue you are addressing come to life.

8.     Use your wealth and “clout”.  Be willing to invest for the long term and find funders who understand this.