Corporate principles play an important role for any business. They guide operating standards and influence strategic decisions. Wegmans, a Rochester-based grocery chain, promotes core values with attributes of respect, care for employees, and making a difference in the community. Its decision to advance plans to enter the North Carolina market amid controversy surrounding H.B. 2, challenges its commitment to such values and raises questions about how all companies should factor inclusion into their business strategies.
Supervisor Bill Moehle, Town of Brighton, recently encouraged Wegmans to halt its expansion following a failed attempt by North Carolina legislators to overturn H.B. 2. Moehle perceived the moment as an opportunity for the grocery chain to use its potential economic impact in North Carolina as a way to advocate for the LGBTQ community.
Throughout the day, criticism against Moehle mounted, including an interview with talk radio host Bob Lonsberry of ClearChannel’s WHAM 1180. Lonsberry questioned Moehle’s relevancy on the issue — since Wegmans does not operate a Brighton location — and felt bringing Wegmans into the political fray could negatively impact its corporate reputation.
Its North Carolina expansion aside, Wegmans should use Moehle’s urge as a teachable moment to reevaluate inclusive practices and standards within the context of its core values and their meaning in the 21st century.
Despite its accolades with Fortune and Forbes magazines for “Best Company to Work For” and “Best Employer,” respectively, Wegmans is missing from an important list on the issue of diversity and inclusion: the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Corporate Equality Index. The annual report serves “as a national benchmarking tool on corporate policies and practices pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.” By comparison, Cincinnati-based grocer Kroger, scored 95 out of 100 in the 2015 index.
Supervisor Moehle’s tweet is more than a standalone call-to-action from Brighton to Wegmans and North Carolina legislators. Groups like B Lab, a non-profit focused on strengthening businesses’ social and environmental impact, view inclusive practices as table stakes for companies focused on building competitiveness through the triple-bottom line: profit, people, planet. Earlier this year, B Lab and its global membership chose to move its annual retreat to Philadelphia from North Carolina, a direct acknowledgment of H.B. 2. “We made the decision [that] it’s firmly in opposition to the values the B Corp community upholds,” said Vale Jokisch, director of services, B Lab.
Good governance is vital to the success of any corporate entity. This measure largely draws upon the cues directed by an organization’s core values. The dialogue surrounding Wegmans provides a signal for all businesses to review its key principles, celebrate achievements where deserved, and take inventory where improvements are required. Authentic inclusion requires businesses to adopt the hard work of acting responsibly with intent across all its affairs.
The author Jim Collins wrote, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.”