Bloomberg reports that Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), following up on the Supreme Court ruling that banned affirmative action in college admissions - or at least mandated that race could not be used by colleges as a factor in determining who to admit - "urged Target Corp. to end its efforts to racially diversify its workforce and vendor network.
"He called the Minneapolis-based company’s programs 'discriminatory' and threatened 'significant and likely costly litigation' should Target fail to change its ways."
In its analysis, Bloomberg suggests that "retail is one of the few sectors where those without higher education can earn a consistent income and access health benefits. Cutting back on diversity programs will make retail work even more challenging than it already is by further squeezing the thin representation of people of color in the upper echelons of management.
"Like many companies, including Walmart Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., Target announced ambitious goals to diversify its corporate and management teams in the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police in 2020. Target promised at the time to increase its representation of Black team members by 20% over the following three years through improved hiring, mentorship and retention programs. But its most recent 2021 figures show it’s been a slow go, increasing only from 15% to 16%."
And, Bloomberg goes on:
"Diversity all along the corporate hierarchy is critical to worker retention and career advancement, especially among people of color. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Human Resources found that retail workers managed by someone of the same race are less likely to quit or be fired. And it’s much harder to stick with a job as a person of color when your manager may not be able to identify with your race-related issues or understand the specific challenges you may face in advancing. As it turns out, all retail workers want the opportunity to advance."
And, there's this final assessment from Bloomberg:
"It’s not the responsibility of any one company to fix systematic discrimination against people of color in the workforce. But conservatives have focused their outrage on Target for its progressive policies, even as dozens of other companies have made similar diversity commitments. Target fumbled its response to the backlash against its Pride collection last month. It has an opportunity to correct those mistakes in defending its diversity programs. Here’s hoping other retailers step up and defend their rival for the good of the industry."
- KC's View:
The challenge that Target is facing was illustrated this weekend by a story from The Street about how Walmart "has made a move to make its stores more inclusive."
According to the story,"Because it has traditionally been a company with conservative leadership, Walmart seems to get less scrutiny from the right than rival Target. Both companies, for example, sell Pride merchandise but only Target faced a backlash from right-wing shoppers for doing so."
Now, the inclusivity that The Street is pointing to is not the same thing as racial and gender diversity for which Target is being threatened. The story suggests that Walmart "risks angering its core audience -- and creating a Bud Light-style backlash -- by making a change in its stores for the back-to-school shopping season. The company detailed that change in a press release under the headline: "Creating a more inclusive shopping experience."
Walmart said, "We are striving every day to create a culture where everyone feels they belong. This year, Walmart is taking steps toward creating a quieter shopping environment that’s more enjoyable for customers who live with sensory disabilities. Our sensory-friendly hours will take place Saturdays in July and throughout August from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. in most stores.
"For areas that start school after Labor Day, sensory-friendly hours will begin July 22 … During these hours, stores will dim the lights, the music will be turned off, and anything with moving images on screens will be turned into a stationary picture."
To be honest, I'm not sure who would take issue with Walmart's specific move. Are there actually people out there who would argue for the right for the stores where they shop to always have bright lights, music and active TV screens? That "quiet hours" should not be permitted for people with sensory disabilities? (Well, actually, there probably are, and no doubt they will be filing suit against Walmart any day now.)
But the broader point that both Bloomberg and The Street are making is that to some people in some places "inclusivity" and "diversity" have become dirty words.
That's a shame.
There is basically one reason that companies like Target and Walmart pursue diversity and inclusion initiatives. It is because businesses are better when more people of different backgrounds, beliefs, genders and ethnic origins are represented around the table and in their stores. Businesses are better when employees at all levels reflect the customer base, and I think that in most cases, these efforts are to be admired, not condemned.
I'm not sure what Cotton's standing would be in such a lawsuit. (He would know better than I, being an elite Harvard and Harvard Law School graduate.) But I'm sure he's right - someone probably is going to sue Target. And probably Walmart. And maybe even any other company that tries to be proactive about diversifying their ranks.
I don’t understand the world anymore.