Target CEO brushes off critics saying the company is too 'woke' as brands like Bud Light and Disney battle backlash
Target has made diversity and inclusion cornerstones of its identity — more than many other brands.
When asked about the backlash to "woke" capitalism, CEO Brian Cornell brushed off the criticism.
"Those are just the right things for our business today," he told Fortune's "Leadership Next" podcast.
Target CEO Brian Cornell has long been outspoken about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels of his company.
From hiring employees and selecting vendors to designing stores and donating to social causes, the retailer has gone farther than many national brands to establish itself as a place where all are welcome.
Some shoppers have taken to social media to decry merchandising choices like transgender-friendly swimwear or rainbow designs on children's shirts, but Cornell brushes off criticism that Target is out of step with America.
"What's your take on some of the pushback now on so-called 'woke' capitalism?" Fortune's Michal Lev-Ram asked Cornell on an episode of the "Leadership Next" podcast released last week. "We're seeing a lot of backlash, not just on the social justice side, but 'woke' capitalism in general. What is your take on it?"
"When we think about purpose at Target, it's really about helping all the families, and that 'all' word is really important," Cornell said. "Most of America shops at Target, so we want to do the right thing to support families across the country."
The company employs over 450,000 workers, and Cornell said that 40% of the roughly 2,000 US store directors are from diverse backgrounds, and half of store directors are women.
He also noted that in stores where most shoppers speak Spanish, the company hired staff and designed properly translated store signage with the goal of having guests "feel at home" in the store.
"I think those are just good business decisions, and it's the right thing for society, and it's the great thing for our brand," Cornell said.
At a time when brands like Bud Light and Disney are embroiled in highly public, highly politicized fights over how marginalized groups should be represented, Cornell sidestepped a question about Target's stores in Florida and the state's Republican governor and leading anti-'woke' crusader, Ron DeSantis.
"The things we've done from a DE&I standpoint, it's adding value," Cornell said. "It's helping us drive sales, it's building greater engagement with both our teams and our guests, and those are just the right things for our business today."
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