Exclusive: Adidas Minority, LGBTQ Employees ‘Sad’ & ‘Defeated’ By Brand’s Diversity Efforts

Eight months have passed since FN first reported on diversity challenges at Adidas’s Portland, Ore., offices.

In that time, the German-based brand has continued its streak of sales growth in the North American market, scoring gains of 5% in the most recent quarter, despite supply chain issues and heightened competition from Nike and revived retro brands like Champion and Fila.

It has also added to its superstar endorsement roster, nabbing the ultimate “get” of present-day entertainers — Beyoncé, all while enjoying the now-estimated billion-dollar success of Kanye West’s Yeezy franchise.

But on the internal diversity and inclusion front, little has changed, according to multiple current and former employees of the brand.

“It’s sad and [I feel] defeated,” one current employee told FN. (All employees who spoke with FN for this story requested anonymity.)

Last month, a New York Times article revealed the concerns of 20-plus anonymous minority employees of the company who described alleged instances of inequitable and discriminatory treatment that they said run counter to the brand’s pro-diversity marketing. (The new allegations were similar to the claims made to FN by employees last November.)

Rather than acknowledge the Times article, employees at the brand said the company — on the same week that story was published — sent out a mass email inviting staffers to celebrate its “extraordinary company culture” at a brand-sponsored summer party on July 16. (FN has viewed the email message.)

In response, some minority employees at the company are planning to sit the event out, FN has learned. What’s more, an anonymous direct message has been sent via Instagram to Asian, Hispanic and African-Americans staffers at the brand’s Portland offices urging them not to attend the “company culture celebration” and to spread the word.

Over the past few weeks, multiple sources — including LGBTQ and Asian employees who said their stories were missing from recent headlines — have come forward to detail new claims of being disenfranchised at the brand.

“The people who are rising at the company are [predominantly] white males,” said one current employee, who identifies as both Asian and LGBTQ. “I have requested mentorship meetings with senior leaders at the brand — whom I’ve often seen having these kinds of meetings with young white males in the cafeteria — but my meetings always end up being canceled.”

The source added, “If I were a white, straight man, people would have [acknowledged] my hard work and mentored me.”

A former employee, who is also Asian, said she exited the company because of alleged “bullying, blatant disrespect and disregard for people of color.”

“I’m treated differently because I’m Asian and I don’t fit the mold. I’m just a workhorse,” another employee said. “I’ve had to go above and beyond in order to stay at the company. I have to work extra hard.”

Adidas store china
Inside an Adidas store in China.
CREDIT: Wu Hong/Rex Shutterstock

Another point of contention for some Adidas employees is a perceived lack of senior support for the LGBTQ employee resource group — as well as other internal ERGs — on campus.

According to sources, the LGBTQ support group, Proud to Play, hosted training on the gender identity spectrum last year that was largely unattended by senior leaders on the Portland campus, despite the fact that flyers and companywide emails were sent out touting the event.

One LGBTQ employee estimated that about 15 to 20 people attended the meeting. (A reported 1,700 employees currently work out of Adidas’ Portland campus.) The employee later left the group after attending several gatherings hosted by Proud to Play and feeling frustrated by a lack of upper management support.

Similarly, one African-American employee said he exited the minority employee resource group Progressive Soles after observing a lack of management support and presence at meetings.

“We were unified, but when it came time to have senior support, that [was lacking],” the employee said. “African-Americans and people of color don’t have a voice in decision-making. The diversity training [offered by the company] is pointless. It’s frustrating. I’ve given up hope. It’s not going to change.”

While the company this week declined to provide additional comment regarding the latest claims of current and former staffers, Adidas said in a statement provided to FN last month that it recently expanded its Diversity and Inclusion team in North America to “focus on underrepresented communities in our workforce across the talent lifecycle.” It also said at the time that it conducts “ongoing workplace inclusion education and training for employees across North America.”

The company added, “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.”

In contrast, however, multiple employees have said the company’s diversity measures have, so far, proven wholly ineffective.

CREDIT: Ian Tuttle/Shutterstock

“For several months, I’ve been filling out the [monthly] employee surveys the company [distributes] and [listing] my concerns about how people of color are treated at Adidas,” said one minority employee. “I literally have been writing the same thing over and over [to management] for months and nothing has changed.”

Meanwhile, a staffer at the Adidas employee store in Portland said her frustrations with what she deemed to be racial discrimination from managers toward employees led her to request a meeting with the company’s newly expanded Diversity and Inclusion team. However, she said the request was denied and that she was told the D&I team works only with Human Resources — not with individual employees. (Among her concerns, the employee described an incident when a black staffer was sent home for wearing a head scarf similar to those worn by other store associates who, the staffer said, were able to don such headpieces without a problem.)

“No one from the Diversity and Inclusion team ever reached out to me to let me know I am valued or that the [discrimination] issues we’re having at the store are being addressed,” the staffer said. “All of my [minority] coworkers are over it. Since publication of the [FN and Times] articles, [it’s obvious] that everyone knows about the problems — but nothing has changed.”

The tensions at the employee store, located off the main Adidas campus, have boiled over to the point that some employees have sought legal counsel, FN has learned.

“My direct upper manager — a white male — recently used the term ‘bitches and [the n-word]’ in conversation to me about music. I immediately felt uncomfortable,” one store employee said. “[Although I complained], my manager is still employed at the brand and has not once said ‘I’m sorry.’ Nothing has been done. I have made a commitment to protect my team, especially those being treated unfairly. However, things just seemed to be handled differently, based on race, favoritism and ranking in management.”


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