Since the 1980s, Adidas has been revered as a staple brand in hip-hop culture and the iconic B-boy aesthetic. Yet, more than 30 years after its rise to fame in the Black community, the athletic brand’s corporate representation fails to reflect and honor the audience majorly responsible for its success.
In recently shared data from Adidas’ internal employment data, less than 4.5. percent of the company’s 1,700 employees identify as Black, reports The New York Times. More than 20 current and former employees were interviewed. They described the Adidas headquarters in Portland, Oregon, also known as Adidas Village, as a breeding ground for racial discrimination and micro-aggressions.
From tip-toeing around white colleague discomfort to the fear of jeopardizing potential promotions or marketing campaigns, Black Adidas employees told The Times that something as simple as sitting together in the company cafeteria is viewed negatively by their white counterparts.
And according to employees, the racial issues aren’t just in boardroom meetings or cafeterias. The Times reported that two Black employees said they were referred to with a racial slur by white co-workers in verbal and text conversations.
Adidas’ Global Head of Human Resources Karen Parkin said the athletic wear company has a “zero tolerance” policy for inappropriate behavior, but is aware they have much work to do addressing racial issues.
“We want to be humble,” Parkin told The Times. “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.”
She added that she was unaware of the racial slur incident, and had they been reported to human resources, an investigation would have been conducted.
Other companies have been in the hot seat over their approaches to workplace diversity, equity and inclusion. Before securing an endorsement deal with Adidas, Beyoncé reportedly walked out of a meeting with Reebok in April 2019 due to its lack of diversity and representation, according to ESPN’s Nick DePaula.
Adidas has partnered with various Black athletes and celebrities including Pharrell Williams, Candace Parker, Kanye West, Iman Shumpert and James Harden. With West’s launch of the Yeezy brand within the brand, Adidas’ revenue has jumped exponentially over the past four years.
Nevertheless, only three out of the company’s 340 worldwide vice presidents in 2018 identified as Black. One of the C-suite executives, a Black woman who led one of Adidas’ operations office, left the company shortly after The Times article went live. The circumstances surrounding her departure are unclear at the moment.
After Zion Armstrong, president of Adidas North America, failed to move the needle after acknowledging the company’s urgent need to amp up diversity hire efforts, an anonymous letter was circulated around Adidas Village.
“We talk about consumer obsesses but how do we stay relevant and connected when internally there is no representation,” the letter read.
Progressive Soles, an internal employee-led organization, later met with Armstrong and led an effort to recruit a diverse pool of internship applicants. While Black candidates were able to secure internships with the company, few were offered permanent job opportunities afterwards, employees told The Times.
“[Portland] isn’t the most diverse city in the U.S… [Adidas] needs to be more courageous and bold,” Parkin told The Times. “We’re on that journey right now.”