Peer-reviewed journal articles

Small worlds: Institutional isomorphism and Australia’s corporate elite, 1910-2018

Citation: Wright, Claire E. F. and Wilkie, Benjamin. (2024). Small worlds: Institutional isomorphism and Australia’s corporate elite, 1910–2018. Business History, 1-24. https://doi.org/10.1080/00076791.2024.2325608

 

The study of corporate elites is crucial for understanding power in society. This article uses prosopography to examine the gender, race, class and social composition of Australia’s top interlocked directors between 1910 and 2018. Applying institutional theory, it analyses the way the consolidation of managerial capitalism influenced the board appointment procedures of large Australian companies. Institutional isomorphisms have increased both the dominance of professionals in company leadership, and the professional standards of board members, meaning those with the necessary education, accreditation, experience and time to dedicate to company directorships came from an increasingly narrow set of life histories. At the same time, the ‘destructuration’ of the elite’s gender norms has increased the appointment of women in recent decades. This highlights the way institutional pressures can simultaneously encourage and stagnate change, and the importance of considering business elites – and the appointment procedures of their companies – holistically.

Interrogating diversity: Feminism and the destructuration of Australian board appointment practices

Citation: Wright, C.Cortese, C.Al-Mamun, A., & Ali, S. (2023). Interrogating diversity: Feminism and the destructuration of Australian board appointment practicesCorporate Governance: An International Review120https://doi.org/10.1111/corg.12559 

 

How have social movements influenced the diversity of Australian corporate leadership? Although board diversity is crucial for corporate governance, the research in this topic is bifurcated between studies examining interlocking directorates and the presence of boardroom gender diversity. In this study, we use a novel dataset and method to understand board diversity. We integrate the analysis of social diversity (structural connections) and demographic diversity among ASX50 boards in 2019 and 2023. Social network analysis (SNA) reveals a closely connected corporate community, with prosopography data identifying a narrow range of “acceptable” demographic characteristics. We extend institutional theory by examining the role of global social movements (GSMs) for the destructuration of board appointment practices and the resulting uneven progress on equality. Activism from the global feminist movement has applied multi-dimensional coercive and normative pressures to develop a “pipeline” and “catalyst” for women’s board appointments. Simultaneously, the absence of targeted action on other diversities and the intensification of directors’ professional requirements have institutionalized the group’s social and demographic profile. These findings are relevant to policymakers and corporations, highlighting the role of social movements for disrupting the status quo and the multidimensional institutional pressures needed to destructure entrenched appointment practices.

The Whiteboard: Decoupling of ethnic and gender diversity reporting and practice in corporate Australia

Citation: Wright, C. E. F., Cortese, C., Al-Mamun, A., & Ali, S. (2023). The Whiteboard: Decoupling of ethnic and gender diversity reporting and practice in corporate Australia. Australian Journal of Management, 49.1: 33-52. 

 

Diversity of company leadership is an important governance issue for corporations globally, yet the uneven treatment of diversity priorities remains a major challenge. We explore the extent and change over time of both gender and ethnic diversity in leadership and disclosure for Australia’s largest firms from 2005 to 2021. Using institutional theory, we compare the isomorphisms driving change, and examine the extent to which there is rhetorical decoupling between diversity disclosure and practice. Our analysis reveals a significant improvement in gender diversity over time but very little progress in the ethnic diversity of corporate leaders. We find a connection between diversity reporting and the appointment of female corporate leaders. However, there is a disconnection between public commitment to diversity and the appointment of non-white corporate leaders. A lack of regulation for diversity reporting contributes to this imbalance with different outcomes for gender and ethnic diversity as the result of different institutional isomorphisms. Our findings can inform policymakers and corporations, highlighting the importance of a range of institutional pressures that encourage the disclosure and practice of ethnic diversity in corporate leadership. 

Board games: Antecedents Australia’s interlocking directorates, 1910-2018

Citation: Claire E. F. Wright. (2023). “Board games: Antecedents Australia’s interlocking directorates, 1910-2018”, Enterprise and Society, 24.2: 589-616.

 

The first systematic, longitudinal analysis of the antecedents of interlocking directorates in Australia. Argues that the network has been characterized by a relatively consistent long-run level of connection but substantial variation in the causes of interlocks. Interlocks have responded to the pragmatics of the board member occupation, with corporate governance regulations, the progress of the professions, banking and prudential practices, and the form of large organizations encouraging ties that were built on professional expertise and geographic proximity.

Above board? Interlocking directorates and corporate contagion in 1980s Australia

Citation: Claire E. F. Wright. (2022). “Above board? Interlocking directorates and corporate contagion in 1980s Australia”, Australian Economic History Review, 62.3: 290-312

 

The 1980s were an outrageous time in Australia’s business history. This paper re-examines this era of misconduct, assessing the role of interlocking directorates for corporate governance of diversified business groups. Professional interlocked executives—those with professional training, executive status and mobility between member firms—enabled the takeover culture of the time, and allowed managers to ignore promised strategic benefits and redirect associated firms towards speculative share ownership. These results demonstrate the importance of board independence for corporate governance, and the way that expertise has been weaponised within managerial capitalism to encourage trust in risky and exploitative corporate structures.

Pipelines and catalysts: Lessons from the history of women in corporate leadership

Citation: Claire E. F. Wright. (2022). ‘Pipelines and catalysts: Lessons from the history of women in corporate leadership’, in Lessons from History: Leading historians tackle Australia’s greatest challenges, edited by Carolyn Holbrook, Lyndon Megarrity, David Lowe. Sydney: NewSouth. 

 

Policy-oriented book chapter on what we can learn from the history of women in corporate leadership. History has important lessons for those who seek to make sustainable, intersectional improvements in diversity in leadership. The experiences of female board members in the past suggest we need to build pathways for improving access and diversity. Specifically, in order to achieve real reform we need to address blockages in the ‘pipeline’ to the boardroom (that is, structural career barriers) and shore up the ‘catalysts’ (or external and regulatory pressures) that force change on staid institutions. 

Good wives and corporate leaders: Duality in women’s access to Australia’s top company boards, 1910-2018

Citation: Claire Wright, ‘Good wives and corporate leaders: Duality in women’s access to Australia’s top company boards, 1910-2018’, Business History special issue on women in corporate networks, published ahead of print 09.12.21.

This article examines Australian women in corporate leadership since 1910, revealing the role of networks and personal characteristics for access to positions of corporate influence. From 1910 to 1964, corporate women were cast as the ‘good wife’, with marriage and kinship affording some the ability to influence the networks of corporate men, and the fortunes of the companies they controlled. Since the 1980s, the number of women directors has grown substantially, and women have come to occupy central positions in director network. Efforts by government, regulators and professional associations have improved the number of women in leadership, their importance in the community, and their ability to integrate with core male board members. These insights highlight the multi-dimensional progress of Australian female board members, and the effectiveness of both external pressure and internal advocacy for improving corporate diversity.

Managerial capitalism and white-collar professions: Social mobility in Australia’s corporate elite

Citation: Claire Wright and Hannah Forsyth. (2021). “Managerial capitalism and white-collar professions: Social mobility in Australia’s corporate elite”, Labour History, 121.1: 99-127.

Examines the interdependence of managerial capitalism with the historical constitution of professional work in Australia. Uses data on the composition of top company board members to show a deep connection between the professional expertise and signals of legitimacy of the managerial class and the top layers of professional hierarchies. Low levels of professional enclosure in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries created opportunities for Australians from middle- and working-class backgrounds to move into the capitalist elite. As time went on these opportunities were reduced, as pathways to managerial roles themselves enclosed and managerialism – as a mode of production – increasingly dominated global capitalism.

Macleay’s Choice: Transacting the natural history trade in the nineteenth century

Citation: Simon Ville, Claire Wright and Jude Philp. ( ‘Macleay’s Choice: Transacting the natural history trade in the nineteenth century’, Journal of the History of Biology, 53.3: 345-375.

Uses the case of William John Macleay to understand the global conduct of the nineteenth century natural history trade. It uses economics principles and geographic information systems (GIS) analysis to examine the way Macleay chose between different forms of exchange and agreed prices in light of long-distances, non-standard specimens and imperfect information.

Quotidian routines: The cooperative practices of a business elite

Citation: Claire Wright, Simon Ville and David Merrett. (2019). “Quotidian routines: The cooperative practices of a business elite”, Enterprise and Society, 20.4: 826-60.

Investigates how quotidian interactions built trust and routines among a group of major firms in the Australian wool trade—a sector that required regular interaction to be effective. Deploying extensive archives of their meetings, we use social network analysis to examine interactions among the key group of firms and individuals. Through content analysis we infer the behavior and atmosphere of meetings. Finally, an evaluation of meeting agendas and outcomes demonstrates cooperation and a shared commitment to improving the operation of the wool trade in the 1920s.

The boarding pass: Pathways to corporate networks in early twentieth century Australia

Citation: Claire E. F. Wright. (2019). “The boarding pass: Pathways to corporate networks in early twentieth century Australia”, Australian Historical Studies, 50.4: 441-462.

Examines the network of board members of large Australian corporations in the 1910s. Social network analysis is used to identify the structure of the network, and prosopography is used to understand the characteristics of the group and the possible pathways through which interlocking directorates developed. The evidence reveals a heavily interlocked business sector in Australia in the 1910s. Multiple directorships were the result of professional skills, prior business experience, kinship, marriage, class, gender and empire.

Buzz and pipelines: Knowledge and decision-making in a global business services precinct

Citation: Simon Ville and Claire Wright. (2019). “Buzz and pipelines: Knowledge and decision-making in a global business services precinct”, Journal of Urban History, 45.2: 191-210.

Provides a historical analysis of an urban services district through its examination of the Melbourne wool trade precinct in the 1920s. It is a study of both a local and global community whose social and spatial interaction facilitated large-scale trade of a complex commodity that has rarely been examined. Archival and geographic information systems (GIS) evidence reveals the “buzz” of the Melbourne precinct, created by local social and professional connections among wool brokers and buyers. “Pipelines” to wool growing and textile regions were developed through overseas branches of firms, with global knowledge exchanged through correspondence, telegraph, and migration. These features shaped the progress of the trade, facilitating improvements in its infrastructure and in the ability of Melbourne’s wool brokers and buyers to fulfill their role as intermediaries in the global supply chain for this complex commodity.

Developing a community of practice: Michael Gaffikin and critical accounting research

Citation: Corinne Cortese and Claire Wright. (2018). “Developing a community of practice: Michael Gaffikin and critical accounting research”, Abacus, 54.3: 247-276.

This paper demonstrates the role of a community of practice in academic endeavour, focusing on the influence of place and the role of thought leaders in guiding academic development. Social network analysis (SNA) is used to visualize the 43 PhD supervisions undertaken by Michael Gaffikin during his career, and subsequent PhD supervisions of his students, and students of those students. SNA illustrates the structure of relationships, and the paths through which scholars learnt from one another, which we combine with qualitative analysis of recollections, acknowledgments, and doctoral theses. It highlights the importance of local communities for the development of research agendas, and the influence of PhD supervisors on the professional development of students.

The university tearoom: Informal public spaces as ideas incubators

Citation: Claire Wright and Simon Ville. (2018). “The university tearoom: Informal public spaces as ideas incubators”, History Australia, 15.2: 236-254.

Informal spaces encourage the meeting of minds and the sharing of ideas. They serve as an important counterpoint to the formal, silo-like structures of the modern organisation, encouraging social bonds and discussion across departmental lines. We address the role of one such institution – the university tea room – in Australia in the post-WWII decades. Drawing on a series of oral history interviews with economic historians, we examine the nature of the tea room space, demonstrate its effects on research within universities, and analyse the causes and implications of its decline in recent decades.

The evolution of an intellectual community through the words of its founders: Recollections of Australia’s economic history field

Citation: Claire Wright and Simon Ville. (2017). “The evolution of an intellectual community through the words of its founders: Recollections of Australia’s economic history field”, Australian Economic History Review, 57.3: 345-367.

We interview a broad selection of academics who worked in the field of Australian economic history, approximately 1950–90, to provide a fuller understanding of the evolution of this interdisciplinary field. Our results confirm, complement and, in some cases, challenge conventional views.

Visualising Interdisciplinary Agency: the life cycle of economic history in Australia

 

 

Citation: Claire Wright and Simon Ville. (2017). “Visualising Interdisciplinary Agency: the life cycle of economic history in Australia”, Minerva, 55.3: 321-340.

Examines the nature and progress of interdisciplinary research fields. It argues that disciplinary and interdisciplinary research are complementary and that communicating infrastructures foster communication and integration between disciplines and the interdisciplinary research field to generate innovative knowledge. We apply this to the experience of economic history in Australia in the second half of the twentieth century to demonstrate the life cycle of a semi-permanent interdisciplinary research field.

Neither a discipline nor a colony: Renaissance and re-imagination in economic history

Citation: Simon Ville and Claire Wright. (2017). “Neither a discipline nor a colony: Renaissance and re-imagination in economic history”, Australian Historical Studies, 47.2 (2017): 152-168.

Examines the intellectual and professional changes in the economic history field, particularly the failed experiment of economic history as a separate discipline, and the impact of major economic events have conspired to produce a renaissance in the field of study in the last decade and a half. We argue that economic history derives its main strength from its role as an interdisciplinary research field that draws upon and integrates with its closest disciplines.

The 1920s Viennese Intellectual Community as a Centre for Ideas Exchange: A Network Analysis

Citation: Claire Wright. (2016) “The 1920s Viennese Intellectual Community as a Centre for Ideas Exchange: A Network Analysis”, History of Political Economy, 48.4 (2016): 593-634.

Visualises and analyses the network of scholars living and working in Vienna in the 1920s. By linking the structure of social relationships to differences in ideas between individuals and groups, argues that the nature of this intellectual community meant that scholars could easily move between different disciplines and that certain individuals assisted this process by acting as intermediaries between domains of knowledge.

Currently

 

ARC DECRA Fellow at UTS Business School

 

I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. In particular, I acknowledge that I live and work on the unceded lands of the Dharawal and Gadigal people. This always was, and always will be Aboriginal land. I pay my respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples today.

All thoughts and opinions posted on this website are my own, and not reflective of the institutions I may represent.

Copyright 2022 Claire E. F. Wright