Tractor Supply Company changes its stance on the role and goals of DEI


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The Tractor Supply Company sign is pictured on February 2, 2023 in Pittsburgh.


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Tractor Supply Co. has ended its diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in what the retail chain says is an effort to distance itself from “unprofessional practices” following a conservative response from some of its customer base.

In a news release Thursday, Tractor Supply, which advertises itself as the nation’s “largest rural lifestyle retailer,” said it would stop sponsoring activities such as “pride festivals and voting drives” and would cut DEI roles and “end (its) current DEI goals while ensuring a respectful environment.”

“We've heard from customers that we've let them down,” the company said. “We take this feedback seriously.”

The change 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 launched an unsuccessful bid for Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District in 2022, had called on customers to boycott Tractor Supply and contact Tractor Supply. Its Corporate Leadership.

After the policy change was announced, Starbucks again resorted to the axe and called the move “a huge win” and “the biggest boycott win of our lifetime”.

Shawn 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 that Tractor Supply failed to align its DEI policy with the culture in which it operates.

Brentwood, The Tennessee-based company, which describes itself as the largest supporter of the National FFA Organization, a nonprofit that supports agricultural education, has deep ties to rural communities in 49 states. Harper says Tractor Supply's inclusion policies had to be tailored to that specific cultural context.

“You can’t say you’re going to try to do at Tractor Supply what they do at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California — that’s definitely not going to work,” he said. “That’s what I call ‘situated DEI.’ I would say start with an emphasis on expanding opportunities for low-income people, expanding access to farming for women in rural contexts, and helping people understand how having more women and more people of color in the farming industry benefits everyone. And helping them understand that diversifying the farming industry with women and people of color doesn’t necessarily mean a decrease in opportunities for white male farmers.”

Still, activists and experts say Tractor Supply’s retreat is a blow against the civil rights and LGBTQ+ protections of employees and customers.

“Homophobia, transphobia, sexism, gender discrimination, workplace sexual harassment, ableism, sizeism and racism are not going to go away on their own,” Harper said. “In the absence of good policy and programs within companies, the danger is that these long-standing problems will become even more severe. There's going to be more conflict between employees and customers who represent many diverse groups.”

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

It was one of more than 1,300 businesses to participate in HRC's Corporate Equality Index, a benchmarking survey and report measuring policies and practices related to LGBTQ+ workplace equality. In 2023, the company earned a near-perfect score of 95/100 for implementing workplace protections and benefits with LGBTQ+ employees in mind, providing inclusivity training to workers, and conducting outreach to the LGBTQ+ community.

“Tractor Supply Company is turning its back on its own neighbors with this short-sighted decision,” Eric Bloom, vice president of programs and corporate advocacy at the Human Rights Campaign, told CNN in a statement Saturday. “LGBTQ+ people live in every zip code in this country, including in rural communities. We are shoppers, farmers, veterans, and agricultural students. Companies across every industry work closely with us to ensure their employees and customers are respected, valued, and that they can get the job done for their employees and shareholders. That's why Tractor Supply — and most of the country's largest employers — have been working with us for years to create inclusive policies and practices. Bowing to far-right extremists will only hurt the people these businesses depend on.”

This change in policy is part of a broader trend of corporate hesitancy around LGBTQ+ inclusion. Many household brands have backed down in their support of inclusion, as anti-LGBTQ backlash threatens companies' revenues.

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

Last month, retailer Target said it would limit the number of stores selling its Pride-themed collection for adults after sales dropped sharply last summer amid a boycott by right-wing activists.

While giving in to consumer anger may seem like the safest strategy to recover revenue lost in boycotts, it can also be short-sighted. Harper argues that few companies consider the potential risks Litigation costs from customers and employees.

“A lot of money is wasted on settlements or damages for discrimination and harassment,” he said. “I want companies to think not just about sales, but also about the cost of litigation and the cost of reputation. These are the parts that business leaders are not thinking about because they are not paying attention to DEI.”

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