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.
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 Adam Cobb (Under Review), Take a Stand or Keep your Seat: Independent Director Exit after Social Activist Challenges.
Abstract: Outside directors play a major role in modern corporate governance by providing firms with valuable human and social capital as well as serving as the primary monitors of managers. Given their influence, researchers have been increasingly interested in understanding what motivates these individuals to exit their positions. We add to this line of inquiry by exploring director departure after social activist challenges. Drawing on impression management and identity theory, we argue that the effect of negative claims on an individual director will depend intimately on the whether the claims substantively conflict with the director’s personal values and identity. The results of our study support our claims by showing that board turnover is significantly higher in the years after a boycott in comparison to matched-samples of non-boycotted firms. At the director level, our results reveal that an ideological match between a board member and the activist challengers predicts subsequent director exit. This positive interaction effect is significantly stronger among directors who are likely to be most sensitive to the social performance of the firms with which they are affiliated, due to their functional background or identity characteristics. We discuss the implications of our results for research on corporate governance, corporate social responsibility, and social movements.
Mary-Hunter McDonnell and Elizabeth Pontikes (Under Review), Bad company: The reputational implications of cross-sector interactions with a stigmatized firm.
Abstract: Previous literature documents adverse effects of stigma by association. But it is an open question whether and how stigma might spread through cross-sector alliances. This is especially important to public sector organizations like NGOs who associate with private firms using either collaborative or contentious tactics. We theorize that stigma will spread through cross-sector alliances. This results in negative spillovers for NGOs that had previously collaborated with a private firm that becomes embroiled in scandal. We also propose an important boundary condition based on the affective valence of the previous tie. NGOs that had contentiously targeted a firm that becomes stigmatized can positively benefit through a process we call contentious disassociation. We find empirical support for these ideas in an analysis of public support of environmental NGOs in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, an exogenous shock that stigmatized British Petroleum (BP). Results show that NGOs that had collaborated with BP before the spill suffered a relative decrease in contributions, whereas those that contentiously targeted BP saw an increase in contributions. Findings suggest that the tactic of collaboration creates reputational risk for NGOs, who stand to suffer if the firm unexpectedly turns out to be a bad actor.
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 and Timothy Werner (Under Review), Into the Dark: Shifts in Corporate Political Activity after Social Movement Challenges.
Abstract: Using a unique database on social movement boycotts of corporations, we examine how firms alter their political activities in the wake of a reputational threat. We show that boycotts lead to significant reductions in the amount of targets’ political action committee campaign contributions and simultaneous increases in targets’ CEOs’ personal campaign contributions, as well as targets’ lobbying expenditures. We argue that these patterns represent a shift toward more covert forms of political engagement that present new problems for activists and shareholders seeking to monitor corporate political activity.
Jessica Kennedy, Mary-Hunter McDonnell, Nicole Stephens (Under Review), Does Gender Raise the Ethical Bar? Exploring the Punishment of Ethical Violations at Work.
Abstract: We investigate whether women are targets of more severe punishment than men following ethical violations at work. Using an experimental design, Study 1 finds evidence that ethical behavior is more strongly prescribed for women than for men, even when they occupy an identical professional role. Study 2 manipulates the gender of a manager in a hypothetical scenario and finds that women are punished more severely than men for ethical violations at work. It also tests the scope of our theory by asking whether women are punished more for errors in general, or only for intentional ethical violations. Using field data, Study 3 examines how severely attorneys are punished for violating the American Bar Association’s ethical rules. Female attorneys are punished more severely than male attorneys, after accounting for a variety of factors. Greater representation of women among decision-makers diminishes the gender disparity in punishment. Our research documents a new prescriptive stereotype faced by women and helps to explain the persistence of gender disparities in organizations. It highlights punishment severity as a novel mechanism by which institutions may derail women’s careers more than men’s.
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.
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 course, is required of all first-year doctoral students in Management and open to other Penn students with permission, provides an introduction to the psychological and sociological roots of management theory and research. The course is predicated on the belief that to be effective as a contemporary management scholar one needs a background in "the classics." Therefore, we will be reading classics from the fields of psychology and sociology in their original form during this semester.
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…Read MoreWharton Stories - 07/27/2018