Monday, July 1, 2024

Playing on the presumptive conservativism of rural customers to quash private-sector DEI efforts

Sarah Nassauer reported yesterday for the Wall Street Journal under the headline, "How Tractor Supply Decided to End DEI, and Fast."  

The gist of the story is that in a period of less than a month, Tractor Supply Hardware abandoned its diversity efforts after former Hollywood director turned conservative activist" Robby Starbuck posted on X, "It’s time to expose Tractor Supply."  Starbuck then "laid out a string of complaints about stances taken by the company and its leaders, from a warehouse displaying pride flags to the CEO promoting the Covid-19 vaccine."  Starbuck encouraged the company's shoppers, who he assumed to be conservative based in part on the rural locales of many Tractor Supply stores, to take their business to other retailers.  

According to the WSJ, the Tennesse-based retailer quickly began to talk about "how to  quash criticism before the controversy was seized on by conservative media."  

The story continues: 

Three weeks later, Tractor Supply delivered its decision: Diversity, equity and inclusion at the rural chain were over, including related job roles, and so were some of its environmental initiatives and other causes frequently championed by social progressives.

* * *

The effectiveness of Starbuck’s campaign—and Tractor Supply’s swift and decisive reversal—show how the tide has turned against efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in American corporations. Four years ago many companies saw it as a necessity to support these policies. Today some see it as too much of a risk.

* * * 

The retailer was particularly vulnerable to the attacks. The chain, known for selling animal feed and workwear, boasts a customer base that executives say skews more male and rural than other major retailers. Its shoppers tend to support conservative political candidates, they say.

Postscript:  Interestingly, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette features this headline in today's paper, "Walmart says it has no plans to change diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives."  Serenah McKay reports:

Conservative groups continue pressuring [Walmart] to modify or drop such efforts altogether, placing businesses in a position in which they risk drawing the ire of customers on both sides of the political spectrum.

"We want everyone to feel they belong whether shopping in or working in our stores, clubs and offices," Walmart said in a statement.

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