Tesco, England’s largest supermarket chain, is facing a boycott, after its chairman John Allan told a group of conference-goers that white men are becoming an “endangered species” in corporate boardrooms. Also, his timing was outstandingly bad — he did it last Thursday, the day after International Women’s Day.
Allan, who’s been in charge of Tesco for two years now, says the “context” was that he was at the Retail Week Live conference, talking to “a bunch of aspiring non-executive directors, many of whom were women,” and he felt they could use “some encouragement.” So he addressed the female minorities in the room, and pointed out how swell life is for them in the year 2017. “For a thousand years, men have got most of these jobs, the pendulum has swung very significantly the other way now and will do for the foreseeable future,” he reportedly began, then added: “If you are a white male, tough. You are an endangered species and you are going to have to work twice as hard.”
According to the Guardian, he later said those comments were made tongue in cheek. He was in fact attempting to “highlight the progress made” by the industry in promoting people who weren’t white males, though maybe he’d done this in a pretty dumb way. Whatever he meant to say, it’s fair to say the reaction was swift and severe:
A spokesperson for Women’s March London says their group found Allan’s gaffe “extraordinary,” in part because women make “the majority of grocery purchases in the U.K.,” and therefore represent “a powerful force” that someone like Allan, in particular, should probably sweat alienating. The Guardian gave him another chance to address the controversy over the weekend, but he stopped short of apologizing. He said he’s pretty sure the conference-goers had enjoyed his “colorful turn of speech,” and understood that he was being “humorous” and “a bit hyperbolic.”