Our article on feminism and Australian company board diversity has just been published by Corporate Governance: An International Review! It is a very good reminder that sometimes research takes a while to find it’s ‘right’ home. We had completed the initial research for this article several years ago, and were struggling to find the right outlet, the right theoretical framework, the right story. It had been desk rejected by several good journals, and to be honest we were feeling rather despondent about the whole thing. About a year ago, my co-author Abdullah found a call for papers on “Global Social Movements and the Governance of the Firm”, and we decided to submit our paper. While the article did not initially focus on social movements, the editors and reviewers were constructive, and encouraged us to refine the story to highlight the role of feminism for changing long-term board appointment practices. I was, naturally, thrilled to be asked to make our article more historical! The revisions process was extensive – including entirely new data for 2023, a new theoretical framework, and a completely re-written manuscript, but this went from languishing at the bottom of our ‘to be published’ pile, to acceptance in record time. Sometimes it just takes the right combination of topic, journal, editors and reviewers!
The paper asks, 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. We integrate the analysis of social diversity (structural connections) and demographic diversity amongst 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. Incorporating the historical material that I use regularly throughout my DECRA project, we argue that 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, has institutionalised the group’s social and demographic profile. It highlights the role of social movements for disrupting the status quo, and the multidimensional institutional pressures needed to destructure entrenched appointment practices.
This was a fantastic opportunity to refine my understanding of the role of feminism for Australian board appointments, and reconcile the simultaneous improvements in gender diversity alongside homogenisation in other diversity categories. One of the benefits of a large-scale project such as a DECRA, is that the opportunity to continually develop my expertise in this topic. Insights developed here are thus not just useful for getting this article over the line, but have already, and will continue to, inform my research moving forward.
‘Interrogating diversity: Feminism and the destructuration of Australian board appointment practices’ has been published open access by Corporate Governance: An International Review, and can be found here. If you would like to read my other published work on this topic, see details on my articles or my DECRA project.