Tractor Supply Co. backtracks on DEI roles and goals

Gene J. Puskar/AP

A Tractor Supply Company sign is pictured in Pittsburgh, February 2017. 2, 2023.


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CNN

Tractor Supply Company has eliminated its diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives as part of what the retail chain says is a move to distance itself from “non-retail activities” after conservative backlash from some of its customers.

In a press release Thursday, Tractor Supply, which bills itself as the nation’s “largest rural lifestyle retailer,” said it would stop sponsoring activities such as “Pride festivals and election campaigns,” eliminate DEI roles and “retire (its) current DEI goals while ensuring a respectful environment.”

“Customers told us we disappointed them,” the company said. “We took this return to heart. »

The about-face comes less than a month after right-wing commentator Robby Starbuck attacked the company’s LGBTQ-inclusive stance and DEI hiring initiatives in a series of posts on X. Starbuck, who in 2022 launched a failed bid for Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District, called on customers to boycott Tractor Supply and contact It is business management.

After the policy change was announced, Starbuck turned to X again, calling the decision a “massive victory” and “the biggest boycott victory of our lifetimes.”

Shaun Harper, a professor of business, public policy and education at the University of Southern California, told CNN that one reason for the conservative backlash was Tractor Supply’s failure to adapt its DEI policy to the culture in which it operates.

Brentwood, The Tennessee-based company, which bills itself as the largest supporter of the National FFA Organization, a nonprofit supporting agricultural education, has deep ties to rural communities in 49 states. Harper says Tractor Supply’s inclusion policies should have been tailored to this specific cultural context.

“You can’t say you’re going to try to do at Tractor Supply what they’re doing at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. — it’s definitely not going to work,” he said. “This is what I call “situated DEI.” I would say start by focusing on expanding opportunities for low-income people, expanding access to agriculture for women in rural contexts, and helping people understand how more women and more people of color in agriculture benefit everyone. And helping them understand that diversifying the agricultural sector, with women and people of color, does not have to result in fewer and fewer opportunities for white male farmers.

Yet activists and experts say Tractor Supply’s rollback is a blow to civil rights and LGBTQ+ protections for employees and customers.

“Homophobia, transphobia, sexism, gender discrimination, workplace sexual harassment, ableism, size-ism and racism will not go away on their own,” Harper said. “In the absence of effective policies and programs within companies, the danger is that these long-standing problems will worsen. There will be more conflicts between employees and customers who represent diverse groups.

Tractor Supply also said it would “no longer submit data to the Human Rights Campaign,” one of the largest nonprofit LGBTQ+ advocacy groups in the United States.

It was one of more than 1,300 companies to participate in HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, a benchmarking survey and report measuring LGBTQ+ equality policies and practices in the workplace. In 2023, the company received a near-perfect score of 95/100 for implementing LGBTQ+-inclusive workplace protections and benefits, worker inclusion training, and LGBTQ+ outreach.

“Tractor Supply Co is turning its back on its own neighbors with this short-sighted decision,” Eric Bloem, vice president of corporate programs and advocacy at the Human Rights Campaign, told CNN on Saturday. “LGBTQ+ people live in every zip code in this country, including rural communities. We are shoppers, farmers, veterans and agricultural students. Companies across all industries work closely with us to ensure their employees and customers are respected, valued and able to do the work for their workforce and shareholders. That’s why Tractor Supply — and most of the nation’s largest employers — have worked with us for years to create inclusive policies and practices. Caving to far-right extremists will only hurt the very people these companies rely on.”

The policy reversal is part of a broader trend of corporate vaccination against LGBTQ+ inclusion. In the face of anti-LGBTQ backlash that threatens corporate bottom lines, several consumer brands have backed away from their support for inclusivity.

Last year, Bud Light’s partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney sparked an anti-trans backlash and a months-long boycott of the beer brand, during which the company failed to take a strong stand in support of Mulvaney and the transgender community. The boycott and subsequent lukewarm response cost parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev up to $1.4 billion in revenue, as well as credibility with a major LGBTQ+ nonprofit.

Last month, retailer Target announced it would limit the number of stores that carry its Pride-themed adult collection after a boycott by right-wing activists last summer led to a sharp drop in sales.

Although giving in to consumer backlash may seem like the safest strategy for recouping lost revenue during a boycott, it can also be short-sighted. Harper says few companies are considering the potential court costs from customers and employees.

“So much money is wasted on settlements or damages for discrimination and harassment,” he said. “I want businesses to think not just about sales, but also about the cost of litigation, as well as reputational costs. These are the things business leaders don’t think about when looking at DEI.

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