As reported by the New York Times, fewer than 4.5% of the nearly 1,700 employees at adidas headquarters in Portland, Oregon, identify as black. Additionally, this small minority reports that despite the brand’s image — adidas is famous for its work with Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, and Beyoncé, just to name a few — the workplace culture itself is vastly different, with black employees left “feeling marginalized and sometimes discriminated against.”
This overall lack of diversity means negative stereotypes can come into play when collaborations with black athletes are being discussed; for example, sneakers with shackles in 2012, or all-white Ultraboost Uncaged sneakers for Black History Month 2019 (both were eventually pulled). Whether such concepts make it past the drawing board or not, the fact that they are brought up at all has left black employees uncomfortable.
According to three employees in attendance, Zion Armstrong, president of adidas North America, acknowledged the company has a diversity problem at a meeting in 2018. However, months passed without any changes, which prompted an anonymous letter to circle campus, criticizing the new adidas diversity strategies or lack thereof.
Armstrong then declared that the company’s demographics reflect that of Portland, which is 77% white (the company itself is 78% white). Last year, only three of adidas’ 340 vice presidents around the world were black; one has since left. He also stated that black employees were not being promoted simply because there weren’t any who were ready for promotion.
Stacey Marsh, a spokesperson for adidas, did not dispute these figures when speaking with the Times, and declined to comment on the demographics at adidas headquarters. Instead, she explained that 55% of the company’s employees, including those working in retail stores, are people of color.
In a statement to Highsnobiety, adidas said,
“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.”
Read the full story from New York Times.