We Value Differences

Beautiful Vermont mountain lake

One Family

Companies should have values.

Our company, Darn Tough Vermont, has values. Our values are straightforward.

They are – We are direct, straightforward and truthful. We value honesty and a hard day’s work. We are penny foolish and pound wise. We are tough independent and respectful. We value families. We value differences. We wear it on our sleeves. We are authentic. We have yet to produce our best sock.

What are values? A definition I like: one’s judgement of what is important in life. At Darn Tough our values are important to us. Our values guide how we treat each other; how we treat our customers and how we deal with our suppliers. Our values influence how we interact with our community, this region of Vermont and the state as a whole. As a local, yet international business, our values not only influence our relationship with our own country, but how we deal with the rest of the world.

An easy for instance – We value families. Darn Tough is family owned. I’m the third generation of my family in the sock business. My father and I work in the mill and interact with as many of our folks as we can. We are a little too big to know everybody, as we did when we were smaller, but we try, and we get around. We also have generations of other families working in the mill at Darn Tough. That means not only do people like working at Darn Tough, I hope, but that they want their kids and grandkids to work here as well. We look out for one another. We ask our folks to take care of their families and then come to work.

A not so easy for instance – We value differences. Initially, the differences referred to were differences of opinion. Differences of idea, of thought. If you have something to say, say it. No matter how out there, speak up. There are no bad questions, only bad answers. Differences can also refer to differences in gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, education, politics, what-have-you.

The difference(s) of race however is not something that comes up regularly, if at all, in the state of Vermont. Vermont is the 2nd  whitest state in the United States. We are sandwiched between the number 1, Maine, and the number 3, West Virginia.  I’m not going to get into the whys of our #2 ranking, just that it exists. The differences we deal with mostly, I mentioned above.

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the rapid and intense (re)awakening of racial disparity and more specifically the plight of Black people in the United States has been jarring. In and of itself, the video of Floyd’s killing is nothing new. Black men and women appear regularly on body cams, cameras and cell phone videos. Their (mis)treatment on some of these videos is hard to watch. In the most violent of these videos beaten or killed is often the end result.

The mistreatment of Black people in this country has been going on for 401 years. It’s impossible to say it hasn’t.

Increased awareness of their plight is often preceded by violence to them as a people. Increased awareness of their plight is then often followed by violence from them (and others) as a people.

Can you blame Black people? Could you blame anyone for fighting back? For wanting it to stop once and for all? Imagine being on the receiving end of this nightmare. Not for a few days or weeks or years but for CENTURIES. Enchained. Enslaved. Endangered. While conditions today aren’t at those levels, they are still bad. Shot dead in the street while jogging. Murdered in a no-knock warrant and of course George Floyd. All three murdered in the street. No judge. No jury. Just an executioner. No due process as guaranteed by our Constitution. It’s about as un-American as it gets. UN-AMERICAN.

Yes, the conditions have changed, but they’ve changed from the lowest baseline imaginable and from being more overt to more opaque, and the opacity is so ingrained in our society that it’s invisible to the majority of (white) people. It’s “modernized Jim Crow,” if you will.

And what about Black Lives Matter? It’s a good question. BLM is a statement as much as it is question. Ahmaud Arbery shot dead while jogging. Breonna Taylor murdered in a no-knock warrant. George Floyd knee-choked to death. And that’s just the last few months! To chronicle the history of abuse is a look back over the last 401 years.

BLM does not mean that all lives don’t matter. Who said it does?

Once again, institutionalized racism to the rescue. “How dare Black people, or anyone for that matter, make that statement!” How dare they speak out and imply that all lives don’t matter by saying Black Lives Matter!”

Gimmie a break. Look at the history. Do Black Lives Matter? Of course they do.

Back to our values. Values need to be strong. They need to withstand time and place. Values that work today should be just as relevant 100 years from now as they were 100 years go. We value differences. It works today and hopefully it will work 100 years from now.

Race is not a difference we have to deal with regularly, if at all, in the 2nd whitest state in the United States. So how can we, Darn Tough Vermont, not only value differences amongst ourselves but also support differences outside our community where our influence isn’t as strong?

The very first thing we will do is look deeply at the differences amongst our workforce here in Northfield, Vermont. Do people feel safe here? Do we discriminate in the least bit, either knowingly or unknowingly? Do we practice equal opportunity for all regardless of sex, race, age, religion, sexual orientation, ability, what have you? Once we take stock of who we are, we will work to correct any wrongs.

Steps We're Taking

While we are looking internally, we will —

  • Develop an internal Community and Social Mission board to further our current and future commitments.
  • Engage our senior leadership and ultimately 100% of our staff in unconditional bias training.
  • Commit to internal and external audits of bias across our operations, be transparent about the results, and proactively address what we discover, from pay and gender equity to our hiring and promotion practices, and beyond.
  • Work to ensure that our hiring reflects the need to increase the number of people of color within our company alongside an inclusive culture where they not only feel welcomed but can thrive.
  • Make adjustments to our marketing practices to go beyond featuring employees and members of our immediate community in photoshoots. It’s important that we include a broader community going forward.
  • Expand our mentorship and training opportunities.
  • Audit our supplier diversity and make ongoing improvements that reflect our commitments to equality, diversity, and inclusion.
  • Enhance our advocacy work to support trade associations, citizen groups, organizations, and legislation that address social and racial injustices.

Values are one’s judgement of what is important in life. We value families. We value differences. Values guide how we treat each other. Perhaps, and just perhaps, we may all be a bit lost right now. If we’ve forgotten how to treat each other, if we’ve forgotten that life is participatory, I got your back, you got mine, if we’ve lost sight of one another, we must remind ourselves of what is important in life. Values don’t say where to go, just how to get there.

Values. Families. Differences.

- Ric Cabot, President & CEO, Darn Tough Vermont®