It’s time to take the bull by the horns

Tucked away on a shelf in my home office is a small, framed photograph of two New York statues. Their combined effect is iconic - a little girl stands, jaw set, hands on her hips, staring into the eyes of a charging bull double her size.

Abika Martin
Statue of bull and girl

The story of the Fearless Girl

If you’ve been to Broad Street in Manhattan in recent years, you may have noticed Kristen Visbal’s sculpture of the Fearless Girl outside the New York Stock Exchange building. Originally positioned directly opposite the late Arturo Di Modica’s Charging Bull, the piece was unveiled in 2017 as a symbol of gender equality. 

It is somewhat ironic, then, that the company sponsoring its creation was forced to pay out a fair pay claim just a few months on. They later sued Visbal for breach of copyright when she sold reproductions of the original piece, having given them the rights to the name. The artwork caused controversy for portraying a girl, rather than a woman, and was criticised for being performative. 

Ultimately, it wasn’t all this that forced its relocation, but Di Modica’s objection that the piece changed the meaning behind his original artwork. Intended as a celebration of resilience and recovery in the wake of Black Monday, he felt the addition of the Fearless Girl turned the Charging Bull into something negative – an aggressor, and the anti-thesis of the equality message by virtue of its physical opposition to the new addition.

Of course, the beauty of art lies as much in its interpretation, as in its intention. The image of the two together resonates with me for reasons entirely unconnected with either artist’s vision. I see myself as the girl, and the bull as the stock market, with their juxtaposition reflecting a simple fact: I am not afraid of investing. 

An odd statement, perhaps, from someone who does it for a living. But one I make proudly, knowing that only 33% of women feel confident in their ability to make investment decisions[1], and that growing up, I would not have counted myself as one of them.

Life imitates art

They say life imitates art and, in a strange way, the story of the Fearless Girl is a perfect reflection of women’s documented relationship with money; the narrative sounds good on paper, but doesn’t play out that well in real life. 

Data shows that working women have better saving behaviours than their male peers[2], and are more resistant to taking on financial risk[3]. However, their lower relative earnings mean they are still saving lower amounts overall[4] - and that risk aversion could mean their invested assets aren’t working as hard for them. 

For example, women allocate on average 10% more of their capital to cash[5], which may feel safer, but will lose value in real terms in the current inflationary environment. The propensity to take less investment risk will likely have meant many women had a higher exposure to fixed income assets during the particularly ugly bond rout we saw last year. They are also likely to have had correspondingly less exposure to equities during the bull market in the preceding years.

Fortune favours the brave

It is important to acknowledge that neither men nor women are a monolith, and “averages” will always hide outliers at either end of the distribution curve. But in a world where fortune favours the brave, it would seem that risk averse women have been fresh out of luck. So, where does this noticeable difference in risk-taking come from?

Worryingly, it may be in part a narrative consumed from the media. Starling Bank carried out research into the differences in content aimed at women, versus men, and found a startling difference in tone, with women effectively categorised as “excessive spenders” and men categorised as “savvy financiers”[6]. Such language may subconsciously condition women into lower relative confidence in their financial decision making, or over-compensation where they err on the side of caution.

A lack of female financial role models, too, may send a message that money matters are a male domain. Although there have always been female investors, there are still more men called David running funds in the UK than women running them[7].

These external factors may lead women to behave as though they have a naturally lower risk appetite, but that doesn’t tell the full story.

Take the bull by the horns

Perhaps rather than risk aversion, this behaviour may more accurately be described as ‘risk awareness’ or ‘risk centricity’, with women preferring to take more time to research and analyse investment options before making decisions[8], after which they are comfortable to stick with them over a longer period, with men more likely to trade out of positions[9]. Studies have shown women are put off by excessive financial jargon, and doubt their understanding of it, despite their actual financial knowledge being on par with their male peers[10] and even though female investors on average outperform men by 0.4%[11].

To close the gap, then, we must do all we can to counter any negative messages received by women around their finances: presenting them with evidence of their aptitude, validating their decision-making processes, and encouraging them to take the proverbial bull by the horns. 

Or at the very least, to look him right in the eye.

[1] Fidelity, Women and Investing, 2021 

[2] FT Adviser, Research suggests women are better savers than men, 2019 

[3] Quantifying Loss Aversion: Evidence from a UK Population Survey, 2019 

[4], UK Savings Statistics, 2023 

[5] Kantar, Winning Over Women, 2017

[6] Starling Bank, “Make Money Equal” campaign 

[7] Morningstar, (Still) more funds run by Daves than women, 2019 

[8], Women who invest, 2023

[9] Fidelity, Women and Investing, 2021

[10] Kantar, Winning Over Women, 2017

[11] Fidelity, Women and Investing, 2021

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