11 Powerful Quotes About Black Talent & the Sneaker Industry From FN’s Diversity Panel

After reflecting on our own 40 Under 40 lists and listening to our valued constituents, FN was inspired to take a deeper look at the need for more inclusion and recognition of diverse talent across the footwear industry.

On Thursday, three industry voices — Coltrane Curtis, founder and managing partner at Team Epiphany; James Whitner, owner of the Whitaker Group (Social Status, A Ma Maniere); and Sandrine Charles, owner of Sandrine Charles Consulting — convened at FN’s New York office for a timely and poignant conversation about diversity in the athletic shoe industry.

The panel, hosted by FN senior business editor Sheena Butler-Young, marked one of several key steps we’re taking to light the path forward.

Here, from the panel, 11 powerful quotes about diversity in the athletic industry.

On whether athletic brands hire enough Black talent:

CC: “It’s not about harping on the fact that [black executives] aren’t there; it’s what [their absence] means for the business. Not having diverse insights about a product, the consumer, the brand, [means] the brand suffers. The challenge for me is when I hear brands saying that they want to win and pummel their competition — the first thing is creating an inclusive environment so you’re understanding the highs and lows and ebbs and flows of all of your consumers.” 

On climbing the executive ranks as a person of color:

JW: “The worst part of corporate America is the silent blocker. In working with big business, someone can stare in my face and tell me they support my business when I know for a fact that they’re actually fighting against me behind closed doors. But there’s no way for me to combat that. I just have to sit there and take it … If that’s the case for me as an external partner, how is it for people who work inside the company?”

James Whitner social status
James Whitner, owner of the Whitaker Group.
CREDIT: George Chinsee

On FN’s 40 Under 40 executive list:

SC: “There is so much [African-American] talent, and maybe they’re not standing on their soap box and saying ‘Look at me and look at all the things I’ve done.’ Sometimes you need someone to refer you, but [to do so] quietly — not everyone wants to be that loud person saying, ‘Look at me’ — I wasn’t sitting there upset [about the list], but the more I [thought] about it, [I said], ‘Yikes, it’s kind of odd that [certain people weren’t] considered.’ But then again, I’m not in the meetings [at FN].”

CC: “Lists are divisive. When people put lists together, most people get it wrong. It’s more about the process of how you created it. [Now] you can hone and understand how to make the process better next time.”

On how black executives can push for more inclusion at companies:

JW: “Picture you’re on a team: We all walk in — in most cases — as the only black person in that room. [What if you told] your all-white counterparts, ‘I want to kick all of y’all out the room’ and [replace you] with black people? It’s [impossible]. I don’t work in corporate America, but it’s a challenge. We always have to make sure people are comfortable with us. We always got to make sure we don’t say the wrong thing, don’t be too aggressive, don’t make them too nervous — if you do that, you may get kicked out of the room. But you still have to try to open a door for others as much you possibly can, but it’s just tough.”

CC: “If you can breathe, settle, understand the game plan and get a [win], then it’s easier for you to [bring someone along]. By no means, should [a company] hire people because they have a quota. You hire talented people. When [a company] looks at the work and [if] it’s not representative of [its] consumer base, then [it has] to look back at the team and figure out why the work’s not right. The reality is [often that] the work isn’t right because the insight’s were wrong.”

SC: “When you get to a point [in your career], then you can slowly thread people in … [and start] introducing people [to the fact] that talent exists outside of what they’re used to or know.”

Sandrine Charles
Sandrine Charles, owner of Sandrine Charles Consulting LLC.
CREDIT: George Chinsee

On the need for athletic brands to do more for black communities:

CC: “If you take something off the shelf, put something back on of equal or greater value.”

Colrane Curtis Team Epiphany
Colrane Curtis, managing partner of Team Epiphany.
CREDIT: George Chinsee

On how the media and the footwear industry can promote diversity and inclusion:

SC: “It’s having these conversations on and off camera; creating different opportunities for people to have a voice so that you do acknowledge those people that are doing incredibly well but maybe quieter … there are people who are doing great things and that I admire from afar. It’s inclusion, creating conversations, acknowledging people outside of who people see every day — but also people who you do see every day.”

JW: “Recognition and inclusion. Race and divisiveness is America. Let’s call a spade a spade. I don’t think it’s going to get fixed in the footwear industry first. It’s a bigger human problem — each person needs to look in the mirror and figure out how to be a better human. I don’t know if I want to indict the footwear industry for fixing racism in America.”

CC: “[At footwear companies], the people that understand culture, [firms] probably [are] going to have to work with them and figure out how to make them executives. Don’t give people executive titles because they’ve figured out how to climb the [corporate] ladder … The same way your MBA needs to put in work culturally, the kid that’s culturally connected needs to get the mentorship to climb up the ladder … The industry as a whole needs to reinvest — or invest — and give people a shot. When you think about life, it’s about opportunity.”

James Whitner, Sandrine Charles, Coltrane Curtis
(L-R): James Whitner, Sandrine Charles, Coltrane Curtis.
CREDIT: George Chinsee

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