Research Interests: organizational theory (political sociology, institutional theory); nonmarket strategy; corporate governance; corporate misconduct and punishment
Professor Mary-Hunter (“Mae”) McDonnell received her Ph.D. in Management and Organizations from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and a B.A. in Philosophy from the UNC Chapel Hill. She is an Associate Professor of Management in the Organizational Behavior subgroup. Previously, she served as an Assistant Professor of Strategy at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and as a Visiting Professor of Business Law at Northwestern University Law School.
Ishva Minefee, Mary-Hunter McDonnell, Timothy Werner (2021), Reexamining investor reaction to corporate political activity: A replication and extension of Werner (2017), Strategic Management Journal, Forthcoming.
Abstract: Exploiting a whistleblower's leak of the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) corporate sponsors, we quasi‐replicate and extend Werner's (2017) event study of investor reaction to covert corporate political activity (CPA). Werner found that investors reacted positively to the accidental disclosure of covert ties to the Republican Governors Association. In contrast, when we apply the same research design to the ALEC leak, we find that, on average, firms tied to ALEC experienced negative abnormal returns. In cross‐sectional models, we also find that the abnormal returns of ALEC sponsors were more negative for firms that faced shareholder contention around CPA and had liberal‐leaning employees, yet less negative for firms engaged in higher levels of institutional corporate social responsibility. The latter two cross‐sectional findings extend Werner's results.
Mary-Hunter McDonnell, Katarzyna (Kate) Odziemkowska, Elizabeth Pontikes (2021), Bad Company: Shifts in Social Activists’ Tactics and Resources after Industry Crises, Organization Science, Forthcoming.
Abstract: Social movement organizations (SMOs) are increasingly using collaborative tactics to engage firms. Implications of this are not well understood by researchers. This study investigates one risk that looms over such collaborations: if the corporate partner is later implicated in an industry scandal. Ideas are investigated in the context of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. First, we find that industry scandals differentially affect contentious and collaborative SMOs’ ability to mobilize resources. SMOs that had collaborated with the oil and gas industry before the spill suffered from reduced public support after the spill, and those that had contentiously interacted with the industry enjoyed increased contributions. Second, we find that industry scandals affect SMOs’ willingness to collaborate with firms in the future. We show that the Horizon oil spill produced a broad chilling effect on environmental SMOs’ collaborations with firms both within and outside of the oil and gas industry. Our findings show that there are risks inherent to a collaborative strategy that cannot be fully mitigated. Further, we demonstrate that industry scandals represent critical exogenous events that affect social activists’ tactical repertoires for engaging in private politics.
Mary-Hunter McDonnell and Adam Cobb (2020), Take a Stand or Keep your Seat: Board Turnover after Social Movement Boycotts, Academy of Management Journal, 63 (4), pp. 1028-1053.
Abstract: This paper explores how contentious corporate crises -- i.e., charges of controversial political or social behavior -- affect the loyalty of a firm's most elite leaders: the board of directors. We exploit a sample of social movement boycotts, characterizing these as carriers of salient cues about a firm’s character and values that will differentially affect individual directors, depending on their personal ideology. We argue that boycotts that problematize a firm’s values will disproportionately prompt the exit of directors whose values align with the activists, while encouraging entrenchment among directors whose values are opposed to activists. Our results largely support our claims. First, we provide evidence that boycotts represent meaningful crises for boards, provoking a significant increase in turnover at targeted firms. At the director level, we find that the extent of ideological alignment between a director and the activist challengers predicts exit. While this general pattern holds across the ideological spectrum, we show that conservatives, compared to liberals, are more prone to entrenchment in the face of challenges from the opposition. Finally, we find that the relationship between ideological alignment and director exit is stronger after boycotts that generate a more adverse stock market reaction.
Katarzyna (Kate) Odziemkowska and Mary-Hunter McDonnell (Working), Co-opting Contention: Field-level Effects of Firm-Activist Collaborations.
Abstract: In this paper, we explore the mechanisms of indirect co-optation, asking whether and under what circumstances firms that collaborate with activists face less contention from other activists. To shed light on this question, we employ a unique, self-constructed 10-year panel of all contentious and collaborative interactions between 118 environmental social movement organizations and a random sample of 150 of the largest firms in the United States. We find that indirect co-optation of the broader activist field occurs via two pathways: signaling and relational. First, as evidence of signaling, we find that collaborating with a more contentious activist produces more indirect co-optation, as these collaborations provide a stronger signal of the firm’s authentic support of the movement. Second, as evidence of relational indirect co-optation, we find that firms face less contention from activists that are board-interlocked with the activist with whom the firm collaborates. Our findings demonstrate the importance of considering the influence that firm-activist collaborations have outside the focal dyad in shaping the firm’s relationship with a broader movement. They also offer a broader view of the indirect effects of interactions between social activists and firms, inclusive of those resulting from cooperative private politics, a heretofore understudied phenomenon.
Mary-Hunter McDonnell and Brayden King (2018), Order in the Court: How Firm Status and Reputation Shape the Outcomes of Employment Discrimination Suits, American Sociological Review , 83 (1), pp. 61-87.
Abstract: This paper explores the mechanisms by which corporate prestige produces distortive legal outcomes. Drawing on social psychological theories of status, we suggest that prestige influences audience evaluations by shaping expectations, and that its effect will differ depending on whether a firm’s blameworthiness has been firmly established. We empirically analyze a unique database of over 500 employment discrimination suits brought between 1997 and 2008, finding that prestige is associated with a decreased likelihood of being found liable (suggesting a halo effect in assessments of blameworthiness), but with more severe punishments among organizations that are found liable (suggesting a halo tax in administrations of punishment). Our analysis allows us to reconcile two ostensibly contradictory bodies of work on how organizational prestige affect audience evaluations by showing that prestige can be both a benefit and a liability, depending on whether an organization’s blameworthiness has been firmly established.
Mary-Hunter McDonnell and Timothy Werner (2016), Blacklisted Businesses: Social Activists’ Challenges and the Disruption of Corporate Political Activity, Administrative Science Quarterly, 61, pp. 584-620.
Mary-Hunter McDonnell (2016), Radical repertoires: The incidence and impact of corporate-sponsored social activism, Organization Science, 27, pp. 53-71.
Abstract: This article explores when and why firms participate in overt corporate-sponsored social activism. To shed light on this question, I empirically explore the emergence and implications of a new strategic phenomenon in non-market strategy – the corporate-sponsored boycott – in which firms voluntarily cooperate with contentious social movement organizations to sponsor boycotts that protest the contested social practices of other companies or entities at higher orders of market organization, such as industries, transnational regulators, or states. Using a longitudinal database that tracks the social movement challenges faced by 300 large companies between 1993 and 2007, I provide evidence that overt corporate-sponsored activism is used by companies that are chronically targeted and losing ground to activists, especially when those companies are facing a reputational deficit. Further, I find that participation in overt corporate-sponsored activism is associated with significant decreases in the number of activist challenges targeting a firm in the future, suggesting that the tactic may effectively defend a firm from contentious threat by allowing firms to co-opt allies within the activist population. I discuss implications of these findings for social movement research, non-market strategy, and the study of corporate social responsibility.
Brayden King and Mary-Hunter McDonnell, “Good Firms, Good Targets: The Relationship between Corporate Social Responsibility, Reputation, and Activist Targeting”. In Corporate Social Responsibility in a Globalizing World, edited by A. Lim and K. Tsutsui, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 430-454
Abstract: Organizational scholarship has become increasingly interested in the relationships between corporate social responsibility, reputation, and movement activism. Activist groups target corporations in order to pursue their social change agendas. These groups are not only motivated to alter particular companies’ policies and practices, but they also use corporations as public platforms through which to communicate their causes to a broader audience. Some scholars have posited that corporations seek to protect themselves from activist targeting by building strong reputations and engaging in socially responsible behavior. By outwardly projecting an image of being a virtuous company, these firms hope to develop goodwill with activists and deter the activists from making public attacks against them. Our study assesses the extent to which a strong reputation and claims about social responsibility buffer firms from activist pressure. Using data on corporate boycotts, we find that corporate attempts to create a reputable, socially responsible image actually make firms more vulnerable to being targeted by activists. We argue that building a strong reputation as a socially responsible firm creates certain expectations, making incongruent behavior more noticeable and damaging to the firm’s image. In addition, we suggest that activists target reputable firms because they seek to draw more public attention to their causes.
Mary-Hunter McDonnell, Brayden King, Sarah Soule (2015), A Dynamic Process Model of Contentious Politics: Activist Targeting and Corporate Receptivity to Social Challenges, American Sociological Review, 80 (3), pp. 654-678.
Abstract: This project explores whether and how corporations become more receptive to social activist challenges over time. Drawing from social movement theory, we suggest a dynamic process through which contentious interactions lead to increased receptivity. We argue that when firms are chronically targeted by social activists, they respond defensively by adopting strategic management devices that help them better manage social issues and demonstrate their normative appropriateness. These defensive devices have the incidental effect of empowering independent monitors and increasing corporate accountability, which in turn increases a firm's receptivity to future activist challenges. We test our theory using a unique longitudinal dataset that tracks contentious attacks and the adoption of social management devices among a population of 300 large firms from 1993-2009.
This course examines the relationships between corporate managers, the boards of directors charged with overseeing them, and investors. We'll review the responsibilities of the board, including financial statement approval, CEO performance assessment, executive compensation, and succession planning. While boards are legally bound to represent the interests of equity investors, in the course of carrying out this role they are often called on to respond to the needs of numerous other stakeholders, including customers, employees, government and society at large. With global brands at risk and mistakes instantly transmitted via Internet and social media, the reputational stakes are very high. The course is a combination of lecture, guest lecture, discussion, case analysis, and in-class research workshops. We will review some of the theory underlying modern governance practice, drawing from theories and evidence provided by research across diverse fields, including finance, sociology, and organization and management theory. We'll study specific situations where boards and management teams faced governance challenges, and assess the strategies used to deal with them. Finally, we'll examine the ways in which governance arrangements and external stakeholder involvement in governance affects corporate social behavior and global citizenship.
This course examines the relationships between corporate managers, the boards of directors charged with overseeing them, and investors. We'll review the responsibilities of the board, including financial statement approval, CEO performance assessment, executive compensation, and succession planning. While boards are legally bound to represent the interests of equity investors, in the course of carrying out this role they are often called on to respond to the needs of numerous other stakeholders, including customers, employees, government and society at large. With global brands at risk and mistakes instantly transmitted via Internet and social media, the reputational stakes are very high. The course is a combination of lecture, guest lecture, discussion, case analysis and in-class research workshops. We will review some of the theory underlying modern governance practice, drawing from theories and evidence provided by research across diverse fields, including finance, sociology, and organization and management theory. We'll study specific situations where boards and management teams faced governance challenges, and assess the strategies used to deal with them. Finally, we'll examine the ways in which governance arrangements and external stakeholder involvement in governance affects corporate social behaviorand global citizenship.
This course examines the art and science of negotiation, with additional emphasis on conflict resolution. Students will engage in a number of simulated negotiations ranging from simple one-issue transactions to multi-party joint ventures. Through these exercises and associated readings, students explore the basic theoretical models of bargaining and have an opportunity to test and improve their negotiation skills. Cross-listed with MGMT 691/OIDD 691/LGST 806. Format: Lecture, class discussion, simulation/role play, and video demonstrations. Materials: Textbook and course pack.
This seminar-based course, with active discussion and analysis, is required of all first-year doctoral students in Management and open to other Penn students with instructor permission. The purpose of this course is to examine and understand basics in the theory and empirical research in the field of micro and macro organizational behavior and to build an understanding of people's behavior in organizations and across organizations. The course covers a blend of classic and contemporary literature so that we can appreciate the prevailing theories and findings in various areas of macro and micro-organizational behavior. Half the course covers micro-organizational behavior, focused on topics such as influence/status, virtual teams, job design, organizational culture and socialization, identity in organizations and overall look on where the field of micro-organizational behavior is going. Half the course covers macro-organizational behavior, covering the topics of organizational ecology, institutional theory, organizational status and reputation, impression management, social networks and social movements.
Organizations are ubiquitous, and so is organization. This half-semester course explores organization theory (OT) from the 1960s through the end of the 20th century. We will examine the proliferation of organizational theories during this time period (such as contingency theory, resource dependence theory, ecological theory, and institutional theory) and understand how each theory attempts to relate structure and action over varying levels of analysis. We will determine one or two additional schools to add once we discuss your exposure in other management classes to other potential topics such as behavioral decision theory, sense-making and cognition, organizational economics, corporate governance, social networks, and the like.
The quick, decisive and broad response to the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., has to do, in part, with who the victims and survivors are.Knowledge @ Wharton - 3/6/2018
Management professor Mary-Hunter McDonnell examines corporate strategies and responses to increased public scrutiny.Wharton Magazine - 04/11/2018
Boycotts, protests, and other tactics aimed at forcing businesses to change their behavior are on the rise, according to Assistant Professor of Management Mary-Hunter McDonnell. “We’ve seen a 75 percent increase since 2000 in the number of social movements targeting firms,” she said during her whiteboard lecture on corporations and…Wharton Stories - 07/27/2018