Progressive Corporation CEO Tricia Griffith on Tuesday defended the company’s preference for hiring racial minorities and women against conservatives who say they foster reverse discrimination against white men.
Ms. Griffith commented on the insurance company’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) policies during its annual shareholder meeting in Mayfield Village, Ohio. Conservative activists have targeted major corporations around the country this annual meeting season over what they say are “woke” policies that do not serve the interest of shareholders.
“We think it’s very important to have a fair and inclusive work environment, reflect the customers we serve and for our leaders to reflect the people they lead,” Ms. Griffith said. “We believe that Diversity, Equity & Inclusion is an important part of our growth and just the right thing to do.”
Progressive became the latest major corporation to push back against a concerted effort by conservative activists to use shareholder meetings for proposals and questions that challenge woke political stances.
Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, both Republicans, recently moved to strip the Walt Disney Co. of its tax breaks over CEO Bob Chapek’s opposition to a law that bans gender and sexuality discussions in the Sunshine State’s K-3 classrooms.
Shareholders at Disney, Goldman Sachs, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Verizon, ConocoPhillips, and CVS Health have all voted at their annual meetings to reject proposed examinations of their companies’ political stances on sexuality and race issues.
Recent weeks have seen the launch of a new “conservative credit card” called Coign and conservative boycotts of companies that have offered to reimburse the travel expenses of employees who cannot obtain abortions in red states.
Ms. Griffith was responding to a question from conservative shareholder-activist Ethan Peck, an associate of the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Free Enterprise Project. The project purchases stock in companies to showcase what it says is growing political bias in America’s boardrooms.
Mr. Peck had asked the board how it “could justify valuing surface characteristics over merit” and why it prioritizes “skin color and reproductive organs” when hiring employees.
“You said that you needed to reflect your customers,” he told Ms. Griffith. “Are you saying that people with a certain skin color all think a certain way?”
Ms. Griffith answered: “No. We need to be able to represent that. You can’t put yourself in the shoes of somebody else if you don’t have a representative organization that represents the country as a whole.”
“You could never know what it feels like to be a female, I could never feel what it feels like to be a male, so we need to represent everyone,” she added.
After the meeting, Mr. Peck accused Progressive of embracing “woke” identity politics as part of its business model.
“It’s an incredibly regressive and divisive world view,” the activist said in a statement.