/Some Black Adidas workers say advancement is hard, contradicts brand image – Business Insider

Some Black Adidas workers say advancement is hard, contradicts brand image – Business Insider


  • Adidas is a global company headquartered in Germany, with major offices across North America and the UK and over 60,000 employees across the globe.
  • Business Insider spoke with five former and current Adidas employees across the North American, UK, and German offices, all of whom described issues with Black representation within the company. 
  • Adidas’ six-person executive board is entirely white, and its 16-person supervisory board is a majority white.
  • An Adidas spokesperson declined to comment on specific internal conversations or personnel matters and referred Business Insider to CEO Kasper Rørsted’s June 9 statement, in which he said Adidas “must do more to create an environment in which all of our employees feel safe, heard and have equal opportunity to advance their careers.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Craig Walker says Adidas broke his heart.

During his three years as a field visual trainer for Adidas’ East Coast stores, Walker, who is Black, said he tried multiple times to advance to a corporate role in the company he loved working for. But he never got the chance.

In a public post on his LinkedIn profile, Walker described applying to about seven positions in three years but never making it to the final stages of the interview process. The former trainer told Business Insider he watched multiple positions he applied for ultimately get filled by white people.

“And I’m like, you know, I can’t get a seat at the table, I guess,” Walker said, describing his dreadlocked, golden-toothed look as “urban” and a bit more unconventional than the typical corporate employee at Adidas, something he felt was not appealing to the hiring team.

Now as more employees speak up about Adidas’ internal culture as it relates to Black employees, the company is taking steps to reexamine its internal structure, announcing a commitment to filling 30% of all new positions in the US with Black and Latinx people and reviewing its internal language to distance from racial stereotypes.

Adidas black lives matter deck internal documents

Adidas internally banned the word “asset” to describe sponsored athletes and entertainers.

An anonymous current Adidas employee


Business Insider spoke with five former and current Adidas employees across the North American, UK, and German offices, all of whom described issues with Black representation within the company. Four of these employees said opportunities for upward advancement for Black people at the company were limited.

An Adidas spokesperson declined to comment on specific internal conversations or personnel matters and referred Business Insider to CEO Kasper Rørsted’s June 9 statement, in which he said Adidas “must do more to create an environment in which all of our employees feel safe, heard and have equal opportunity to advance their careers.”

A problem with Black representation

One year ago, The New York Times reported that less than 4.5% of the 1,700 Adidas employees at the company’s Portland, Oregon, campus identified as Black, according to internal employment figures from summer 2018.

At the highest levels of leadership, Black representation also appears to be lacking. Adidas’ six-person executive board is entirely white, and its 16-person supervisory board is a majority white.

In regard to Black representation within Adidas, a spokesperson referred Business Insider to the company’s June 10 Instagram post, which said, “The success of Adidas would be nothing without Black athletes, Black artists, Black employees, and Black consumers. Period. … We’ve celebrated athletes and artists in the Black community and used their image to define ourselves culturally as a brand, but missed the message in reflecting such little representation within our walls.”

On June 2, a coalition of Adidas employees representing workers from North America and Germany sent a 32-page slide deck to North American leadership titled “Our State of Emergency,” which outlined a series of requests for the company to recognize and respond to, with hard deadlines for each.

Notably, the document requested a 31% representation of Black and Latinx people at every level of the company by December 31 and an end to the limiting of career advancement for Black employees immediately.

A disparity between external and internal diversity 

To some employees, the lack of diversity among upper-level leadership at Adidas stands in stark contrast to the company’s outward appearance. Marketing campaigns and celebrity partnerships from Adidas are known to prominently feature artists and athletes of color, such as Beyoncé, Kanye West, and James Harden.

Ivy Park

Beyoncé partnered with Adidas to relaunch Ivy Park, her athleisure brand.

Adidas.com


“What we are seeing in our campaigns is not reflected in the company at all,” Aaron Ture, a product manager on Adidas’ Reebok team, said. Ture, who is Black, said conversations with some of his colleagues of color made him believe that they do not feel they are treated equally when it comes to promotions at Adidas.

Along with the perceived lack of opportunity for Black employees, some workers recounted feeling tokenized by colleagues. Ture said he felt tokenized when his opinion was sought specifically for advertising campaigns directed at Black consumers.

A former Black Adidas employee who worked in the UK office until 2019 said he felt senior management discouraged him from hiring a Black candidate when he had the opportunity to hire for his team. When he pushed for an explanation on this decision, he said higher-ups clarified that both he and the candidate were more creative people, which this employee said he felt was “corporate talk” to legitimize barring another Black hire. This employee requested anonymity to speak frankly about his experience at Adidas.

But other employees have gone public with their experiences.

“My existence at this brand is praised as diversity and inclusion, but when I look around I see no one above or around that looks like me,” Julia Bond, a Black woman and assistant designer for Adidas Originals apparel, wrote in a June 3 email to Adidas’ North American leadership that she shared with Business Insider. “I can no longer stand for Adidas’ consistent complacency in taking active steps against a racist work environment.”

Bond has worked full time at the company’s Portland office for about a year.

In her letter, Bond described her experience with what she called “systemic racism” in the company. 

A problem with upward mobility?

Two current Black employees in the company’s Massachusetts and Portland offices, one former Black employee in the UK office, and one current non-Black employee in the German office described issues of upward mobility for Black people at Adidas.

At the Adidas office in Germany where she works as a designer for Yohji Yamamoto’s Y-3 collection, Olivia Pietroni said she noticed her Black colleagues having more trouble advancing their careers at Adidas than her white colleagues. 

“There’s a lot of problems in terms of upward mobility for the Black employees in the company because they’re brought in a very low level and then not given the opportunity to move upwards,” Pietroni, a white woman, said.

According to Pietroni, many of her Black colleagues have come into the company through a trainee program. Though programs like the Adidas Design Academy are pitched as a way to launch a career at Adidas, Pietroni said she saw colleagues who started in trainee programs become stuck in junior positions, even those with higher-level degrees.

Another employee in Adidas’ Germany office who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely said, “Opportunities for advancement and career progression are neither consistent nor transparent across the organization.”

This employee, who as a non-Black person said she could not speak for the experience of how this process affects Black workers, said she saw a general problem regarding advancement in several locations and brands beyond the German office.

“I think there are examples of leadership roles that did not have broad recruitment efforts within or outside our organization,” she said, adding that she has noticed disparities between people’s experience and responsibility across the same level of hierarchy at the company. “The requirements and programs for career advancement/development are not consistently applied or offered to the organization as a whole.”

In a statement to Business Insider, an Adidas spokesperson said quality leadership and future talent was essential for the company’s success. 

“With specifically designed talent-management tools, we identify talents at all levels of our company to become future leaders or key players within the organization,” the spokesperson said. “In order to prepare them for more complex future roles, they have tailored individual development plans and participate in targeted development programs.”

Adidas

Adidas has over 60,000 employees across the globe.

REUTERS/Andreas Gebert


An issue beyond Adidas

After recruitment and retention, career advancement is one of the biggest problems for Black employees in the footwear and athletic-wear industry at companies across the board, Darla Pires DeGrace, a diversity, equity, and inclusion strategist and former recruiter for Reebok, said. Pires DeGrace is also a member of the African American Footwear Forum, an organization that works to address and solve diversity issues in the footwear industry. 

Once a company hires diverse talent, it’s often ill-equipped to help employees move up at the company, Pires DeGrace said. “They’re stuck in their entry-level roles or their mid-level roles with no room for advancement,” Pires DeGrace said.

Pires DeGrace said recruitment should focus on diversifying mid-level and senior roles as opposed to entry-level roles and that pathways to advancement should be clearly delineated.

Feeling like a ‘slave’

For Walker, rising in the ranks of Adidas was something he felt should happen as a natural next step in his career. The former field visual trainer said he often applied to higher-level roles at the encouragement of senior management at Adidas. Though he joined Adidas in 2017 via a third-party visual-merchandising company, Archrival, Walker was running merchandising across Adidas’ major wholesale accounts in New York City within a year. He was also sent to Portland for Adidas field training and to the global headquarters in Germany. In 2019, he was named Visual Merchandiser of the Year for the US, an accomplishment he shared via Instagram.

But he never got a chance to move up at Adidas and was eventually let go from the company amid COVID-19 layoffs.

In a LinkedIn endorsement written after Walker was laid off, Adidas marketing director Alyson Hancock praised his visual-merchandising (VM) skills.

“How do I put into words what Craig offers… passion, advocacy, strategy, execution, positive culture with his teammates,” she wrote. “Craig joined the team and quickly was promoted to leading VM in the NYC area, where he successfully trained the team in VM Excellence and VM business acumen.”

Hancock, who works in the Portland office and oversaw the Adidas field team, added in her endorsement that the visual-merchandising manager “consistently impressed and inspired” her and he exhibited “the highest of potential.” Hancock did not return Business Insider’s request for comment for this story.

This sort of praise from higher-ups was not uncommon while he was at Adidas, Walker said. And it was feedback like this that inspired him to confidently apply to corporate jobs in his second year on the job.

But this sort of recognition got him only so far, he said. 

Walker didn’t advance to the corporate level, even as he got to know company directors and earned recognition for his work.

“In my mind, it was almost the equivalent to me feeling like I’m like a slave,” he said.

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