‘I felt betrayed’

Manager, staffer resign from local Tractor Supply after company cuts DEI

The Tractor Supply Company in Ray Brook, pictured here on Thursday. (Enterprise photo — Sydney Emerson)

RAY BROOK — The general manager and an employee of Tractor Supply in Ray Brook have resigned and more are considering quitting after the company signaled that it would be eliminating its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and ending its commitment to meeting its environmental goals following weeks of online conservative backlash.

The general manager of the Ray Brook location, Joe Montello of Saranac Lake, is a gay man. He has worked at Tractor Supply for a total of six-and-a-half years and felt that the company was supposed to be inclusive, catering to everyone — regardless of their sexual orientation or background. But after reading the company’s statement last week, his feelings changed.

“I felt betrayed,” he said. “I felt that they betrayed not only their employees, but also a large part of their customers.”

The Brentwood, Tennessee based Tractor Supply Company said in a statement last week that it would be eliminating its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team and phasing out its DEI goals; it would stop sponsoring “nonbusiness activities,” such as pride festivals and voting campaigns; and that it would stop submitting data to the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for LGBTQIA-plus rights.

The company also said it will withdraw from its carbon emission goals and instead “focus on (its) land and water conservation efforts.” The company originally aimed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from its 2020 levels by 20% by 2025 and 50% by 2030, and achieve net-zero emissions across all of its operations by 2040, Tractor Supply CEO Hal Lawton wrote in a 2021 opinion piece in The Tennessean.

After reading the company’s statement, “a lot of … customers came to me and told me that they would no longer shop at Tractor Supply,” Montello said. “They didn’t want to support its anti-diversity policy.”

Jacob Vennie-Vollrath, whose family owns a more-than-100-year-old Moonstone Farm, worked at Tractor Supply part-time. He also resigned this week, to support “the people of color, those with disabilities and LGBTQ-plus employees and customers who were impacted by the abrupt politically-motivated change in corporate policy,” he said.

The company said it plans to instead “further focus on rural America priorities including (agricultural) education, animal welfare, veteran causes and being a good neighbor.”

The move was praised by conservatives. It also received pushback — the National Black Farmers Association on Tuesday called for the CEO of Tractor Supply to step down.

The Adirondack Diversity Initiative, based in Saranac Lake, called Tractor Supply’s statement a “shocking betrayal of human rights and dignity, the environment, and our democratic voting rights.”

“We stand firmly with our LGBTQIA-plus neighbors and family specifically called out in Tractor Supply’s public declaration. ADI will continue to champion the true priorities of Rural America: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging — values that our Adirondack and North Country communities consistently show their care, concern, and commitment to and for,” ADI Director Tiffany Rea-Fisher said Thursday.

Tractor Supply did not respond to a request for comment for this story by deadline Thursday.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Vennie-Vollrath said he’d been going to Tractor Supply “for farm odds and ends for (his) small farm since the store opened and Joe (Montello) was always great to talk to.” He works multiple jobs to make ends meet — “like most everyone in this area,” he said. He joined Tractor Supply to help out amid the area’s labor crunch.

“Joe created a safe work environment where everyone felt welcome to be themselves — which I feel was reflected in the diversity of folks on his staff,” he said.

“Any person who reads the statement put out by the CEO clearly sees it as a political one… intended to please a certain side,” he added. “Politics should simply be kept out of the work environment and with one letter the CEO made it political and alienated many. It was an un-American, irresponsible, and political decision that doesn’t align with their stated company values and in an instant the CEO changed how it felt for Joe and others to work there and shop there… including myself.”

The company’s statement last week is a significant reversal of policy for a company that wrote, in its annual report released in March, that DEI plays “a key role in moving (its) business forward.”

The company touted that racial and ethnic minorities make up 18% of its workforce in its annual report, saying that it has “built a strong and diverse team by purposefully seeking highly qualified diverse candidates with different backgrounds, experience, perspectives, ides and skill sets.” Last year, the Human Rights Campaign gave Tractor Supply a score of 95 — out of 100 — for its workforce protections, inclusive employee benefits, its internal training and inclusive culture.

“This was a shocking and disgraceful reversal from a company that, just a year ago, Newsweek hailed as one of America’s best workplaces for Diversity. Which I have no doubt was why they were targeted,” Rea-Fisher said.

The company’s reversal comes after it faced a conservative-led online campaign encouraging consumers to boycott the business because of its DEI work, with conservative political commentator Robby Starbuck telling his followers on X on June 6 that “we don’t want our hard earned money spent on these woke priorities.” He urged them to “start buying what you can from other places until Tractor Supply makes REAL changes.”

“It is infuriating that they caved to a bunch of extremists destroying the goodwill, respect and community they have built within their communities, employees and customers alike,” Rea-Fisher said. “This is not the first attack made on DEI efforts and it won’t be the last. However, those of us who remain on the right side of history will continue to make our voices heard.”

The backlash came amid anemic comparable sales growth for Tractor Supply so far this year, with sales up only 1.1% in the first quarter, Fortune reported this week.

Conservative-led online campaigns aimed at encouraging consumers to boycott businesses — such as Bud Light and Target — have cost the companies tens of millions of dollars, Fortune reported.

While some companies, such as Tractor Supply, have publicly made statements announcing intentions to eliminate its DEI goals, others have quietly changed their DEI programs as part of a growing trend of corporate policy changes in the wake of a wave of legal challenges following the Supreme Court’s decision in June striking down affirmative action in higher education.

Montello said he felt that Tractor Supply had “caved” to those who are boycotting the company.

He said that at the Ray Brook Tractor Supply alone, a “fairly small” location for the company, there are multiple LGBTQIA-plus employees and people who have LGBTQIA-plus family members.

What is DEI?

DEI, in its simplest form, promotes the fair treatment and full participation of all employees, Rea-Fisher said.

“A diverse workplace acknowledges each employee’s individual strengths and potential, allowing them to bring their full selves to their jobs,” she said. “Valuing others’ differences creates a positive company culture, and studies have shown that this equates to stronger financial performance, employee attraction and retention, and company creativity and innovation, all of which contribute to a company’s competitive advantage. Companies with strong DEI goals and initiatives do competitively better than those that don’t, all while valuing the members of their community whether it’s their employees or their customers.

“Not only does having clearly stated and implemented DEI goals in the workplace promote fair treatment and greater participation of employees, but studies have shown time and time again that it also produces better decision-making due to the wide range of perceptions in the room; improves innovation as a mix of backgrounds and viewpoints encourages creative problem solving; improves economic performance ensuring better business outcomes and a big one is mitigating bias,” she added. “DEI goals help identify and address systematic biases and barriers within an organization. These are just a few examples the list goes on and on which is why Tractor Supply’s decision to roll back their DEI goals due to political pressure is an untenable way forward.”

The Adirondack Diversity Initiative helps local businesses and organizations with their DEI goals and initiatives. That often includes “one-on-one support in drafting inclusive job descriptions or fair and unbiased human resource policies,” according to ADI. ADI leads DEIB-focused training for leaders and staff of businesses and is in the process of developing a “Welcoming and Belonging” micro-credential that will soon be offered through North Country Community College.

ADI’s symposium this November, Creating Inclusivity for North Country Sustainability, is working closely with Adirondack North Country Association’s Small Business Program, with a focus on helping businesses and nonprofits network and build capacity to create inclusive hiring practices and inclusive organizational cultures, and to diversify their workforces and customer bases, according to ADI.

Local businesses interested in learning more can visit ANCA and ADI’s websites: www.adirondack.org and www.diversityadk.org.

At Tractor Supply, Montello hopes that the company will backtrack and keep their DEI and environmental goals in place.

“So many different types of people shop there,” he said. “People should just be able to live and shop and feel safe where they go — and feel appreciated.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today