Companies face increasing pressure from different stakeholders to address various environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. In their efforts to engage with these issues, they might pursue symbolic or substantive actions, either pre-emptively (proactive actions) or in response to specific targeted threats (reactive actions). Yet we know relatively little about how different stakeholders react to this repertoire of corporate actions and importantly, whether they are aligned in their reaction. We ask this question in the context of gender inequality, an issue that has become salient due to heightened societal attention thanks to the #MeToo movement. We analyze reactions to company actions among two stakeholder groups, “Wall Street” (investors) and “Main Street” (the general public and consumers). Our sample includes 849,272 company-day observations covering 424 companies between 2015 and 2020. We identify 632 gender-related company actions and uncover that Wall Street and Main Street are surprisingly aligned in their negative reaction to companies’ symbolic-reactive actions, as evidenced by negative cumulative abnormal returns, more negative social media and reduced consumer perceptions of brand equity. Importantly, neither group of stakeholders reacts—positively or negatively—to any other types of company actions. Moreover, Main Street’s negative reaction has only emerged in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement. Our study shows that while company actions to address gender inequality are heterogeneous, stakeholder reactions seem to be aligned, and some of them are affected by social movements. This paper advances managerially relevant insights at the intersection of stakeholder management and grand challenges, such as gender inequality.
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