CEO ideology as an element of the corporate opportunity structure for social activists

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In an effort to comprehend activism toward corporations, scholars have proposed the concept of corporate opportunity structure, or the attributes of individual firms that make them more (or less) attractive as activist targets. We theorize that the personal values of the firm's elite decision makers constitute a key element of this corporate opportunity structure. We specifically consider the political ideology - conservatism versus liberalism - of the company's CEO as a signal for employees who are considering the merits of engaging in activism. To test of our theory, we examine the formation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employee groups in major companies in the period 1985-2004, when the formation of such groups was generally perceived to be risky for participants. Using CEOs' records of political donations to measure their personal ideologies, we find strong evidence that the political liberalism of CEOs influences the likelihood of activism. We also find that CEOs' ideologies influence activism more strongly when CEOs are more powerful, when they oversee more conservative (i.e., less liberal) workplaces, and when the social movement is in the early phase of development. We identify theoretical and practical implications, as well as future research opportunities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1786-1809
Number of pages24
JournalAcademy of Management Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business and International Management
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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