Target CEO Brian Cornell said in an interview days before his company experienced massive backlash for “Pride Month” efforts that “woke capitalism” was beneficial to his firm.
Conservatives have launched a boycott against Target after the retail behemoth marketed a female swimsuit as “tuck-friendly” and with “extra crotch coverage,” as well as hired an artist who formerly created Satanic items to make various designs for the company. Cornell was asked in a May 16 episode of Fortune’s “Leadership Next” podcast about how his firm has responded to “pushback” against “woke capitalism,” prompting the executive to tout various corporate diversity efforts at Target.
“I can see the benefits for our shareholders. I know that focus on diversity, inclusion, and equity has fueled much of our growth over the last nine years,” he commented. “It’s adding value, 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.”
Target shareholders have nevertheless suffered in recent days as a result of backlash over the diversity efforts. Target’s market capitalization, which refers to the total value of a publicly traded company’s outstanding shares, has indeed fallen from $70.4 billion to $63.9 billion over the past week as consumers react strongly to the controversy.
Cornell added that diversity initiatives at Target are “good business decisions,” as well as “the right thing for society” and “a great thing for our brand.” Emphasizing efforts to hire females and members of racial minorities to work in company leadership, he remarked that he is “really proud of the work” his firm has done with respect to diversity and inclusion.
Erik Carnell, the self-identified transgender artist who runs the company Abprallen, designed three items for Target: a mini messenger bag with the slogan “We Belong Everywhere,” a tote bag with the phrase “Too Queer For Here,” and a sweatshirt emblazoned with “Cure Transphobia, Not Trans People.” She was later exposed to have a number of items featuring the LGBTQ movement alongside imagery of Satan. Products featured on the artist’s website, which were not sold by Target, included a shirt with the phrase “Satan Respects Pronouns” and a design of a skeleton draped in rainbow colors that said “Trans Witches For Abortion.”
“Satanists don’t actually believe in Satan, he is merely used as a symbol of passion, pride, and liberty,” said the artist’s website, which now appears to be shuttered due to high demand. “He means to you what you need him to mean. So for me, Satan is hope, compassion, equality, and love. So, naturally, Satan respects pronouns. He loves all LGBT+ people.”
Target executives made calls to managers and senior directors last week amid the backlash against the company, reportedly telling leadership to make their “Pride Month” displays less prominent in order to avoid provoking another “Bud Light situation,” a reference to the beer brand’s rapidly declining sales which occurred after a partnership with Dylan Mulvaney. Target and Anheuser-Busch, the conglomerate which owns Bud Light, each have extensive corporate sustainability efforts which seek to advance inclusion and endorse the LGBTQ movement.