A recent report from the New York Times cites multiple instances of racial insensitivity and a lack of diversity at Adidas' North American headquarters in Portland.
According to the report, over 20 current and former anonymous employees described a work environment at Adidas Village that contradicts the brand's image of inclusion and diversity. Many cited that there were times they were the only black employee in meetings, which would often lead to racial stereotypes surfacing in discussions.
Two such examples involved some of the brand's biggest ambassadors, NBA superstars James Harden and Damian Lillard. The article addresses a meeting in 2016 that suggested marketing a brand new Harden model as a part of its "Uncaged" lineup with an advertisement depicting Harden breaking free from a prison cell. Another campaign, titled "All Rise," would see Lillard as a courtroom defendant. Both pitches would eventually be scrapped for their racial overtones.
Other employees told the Times of instances where white employees referred to them with racial slurs. "Two black employees said they had been referred to with a common racist slur by white co-workers, one verbally and one in a text message seen by The Times. In both instances, the people believed the slur was intended as a joke, which they felt only highlighted the company’s skewed perspective on race."
Similar reports surfaced about the Three Stripes back in November 2018 as well when an anonymous letter spoke of alleged racial tension and bullying in the workplace.
As the article points out, this is a far cry from the message the brand promotes in the public eye, one that boasts ambassadors like Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Pusha T, and newly-signed superstar musician, Beyoncé. In reality, fewer than 4.5 percent of the 1,700 employees at the Adidas HQ in Portland identify as black, according to Summer 2018 employment figures. Last year, only three of the company's roughly 340 worldwide vice presidents were black.
Adidas global head of human resources Karen Parkin admitted to the New York Times that the company can improve this aspect of its workplace and said it had a "zero tolerance" policy regarding this types of incidents. Investigations would have occurred had they been properly reported. "We want to be humble," Parkin said. "We’re not where we need to be in all of the locations around the world. But we’re not afraid to have the conversation, either."
Adidas has provided Sole Collector with an official statement regarding these recent allegations:
We are committed to fostering a respectful, equitable, and inclusive environment for all Adidas employees around the world. It’s crucial that we have and support a diverse workforce that represents a variety of ideas, strengths, interests and backgrounds and that we promote an open culture where all of our people can fully contribute. We value all of our employees, are stronger because of their unique perspectives and are dedicated to achieving greater diversity at every level of the company.
We actively evaluate and seek to strengthen our programs and policies to ensure we are recruiting, retaining, and advancing a diverse team. Recently, we have expanded our Diversity and Inclusion team in North America to focus on underrepresented communities in our workforce across the talent lifecycle; and we conduct ongoing workplace inclusion education and training for employees across North America. Our North American diversity strategy also includes programs to help bring new employees from diverse backgrounds to positions at the company’s corporate headquarters. While we have made progress in these areas, we recognize there is much more to be done, and we are committed to doing it.