Hiding in Plain Sight? Stockholder Gender & The Corporate Governance Paradigm
Prof. Sarah Haan of Washington & Lee Law School recently posted a draft article online that’s eye opening, to say the least. In short, her thesis is that there is a trend that scholars have overlooked — the explosive growth in the percentage of stock owned by women during the early decades of the 20th century — played a major role in the development of the modern paradigm for public company corporate governance. Here’s an excerpt from the article’s abstract:
Corporate law scholarship has never before acknowledged that the early decades of the twentieth century, a transformational era in corporate law and theory, coincided with a major change in the gender of the stockholder class. Scholars have not considered the possibility that the sex of common stockholders, which was being tracked internally at companies, disclosed in annual reports, and publicly reported in the financial press, might have influenced business leaders’ views about corporate organization and governance.
This Article considers the implications of this history for some of the most important ideas in corporate law theory, including the “separation of ownership and control,” shareholder “passivity,” stakeholderism, and board representation. It argues that early twentieth-century gender politics helped shape foundational ideas of corporate governance theory, especially ideas concerning the role of shareholders. Outlining a research agenda where history intersects with corporate law’s most vital present-day problems, the Article lays out the evidence and invites the corporate law discipline to begin a conversation about gender, power, and the evolution of corporate law.
Some of the language in the abstract may make the article sound a little wonky, but in reality, it’s accessible and engaging. It sounds cliché to call a work “groundbreaking,” but I can’t come up with a better word to describe this one. I’m sure there will be plenty of back and forth among governance scholars on the merits of Prof. Haan’s arguments, but my take is that she may have put her finger on something that’s been hiding in plain sight for a long time.
-John Jenkins, TheCorporateCounsel.net December 4, 2020
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