Business and Society 59 (6):1228-1268 (2018)

Shareholder activists increasingly pressure corporations on social policy issues; yet, extant research provides little understanding of who these activists are and how they choose their corporate targets. In this article, we adopt an activist-centered approach and rely on hybrid organizational identity theory to determine, in a two-phase analysis, how shareholder activists define their economic and social identities and whether these identities are associated with specific target characteristics and tactical strategies. Our findings form the premise of a typology of institutional shareholder activists that is empirically derived and takes into account the wide range of hybrid organizational identities that shareholders exhibit. With a sample of 735 social policy shareholder proposals filed by 104 institutional shareholders in the 2009-2010 period, our study presents one of the first empirical tests examining the heterogeneity of identities within the broad stakeholder category of “social shareholder activists.” Our empirical evidence demonstrates that these shareholders’ mix of economic and social identities is systematically related to their targets’ characteristics and tactical strategies. The implications of our new typology for research on shareholder activism and the value of our findings for managers conclude this article.
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DOI 10.1177/0007650318762752
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