More Employees Are Accusing Adidas of Discrimination — Here’s What the Brand Says

Seven months after FN first reported on diversity challenges at Adidas’ Portland, Ore., offices, the brand today is responding to a new wave of allegations — reiterating its previous sentiments that it is “committed to fostering a respectful, equitable, and inclusive environment” for its workers.

“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,” the company said in a statement today — similar to the one it provided in November. “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.”

A New York Times article today revealed the concerns of 20-plus 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. Similarly, last year, multiple sources identifying as racial and ethnic minorities said that white leaders at the German athletic brand’s Portland headquarters failed to promote and treat people of color fairly.

In November, FN also revealed a letter addressed to newly minted Adidas North America president Zion Armstrong, in which an employee of the brand purporting to speak on behalf of minorities at the company urged the new leader to “diversify representation” in the firm’s upper ranks, alleging racial and ethnic tensions at the brand.

Zion Armstrong president Adidas North America
Zion Armstrong, president of Adidas North America.
CREDIT: Adidas

The Times article detailed that a few weeks after that letter was sent to Armstrong, he attended a meeting of Progressive Soles, an internal resource group for minority employees, and “seemingly contradicted his earlier comments.”

Armstrong, the publication reported, said Adidas did not have a race problem and that the company’s demographics mirrored those of a mostly white Portland.

“When asked why more black employees were not being promoted, Mr. Armstrong said there simply were not any who were ready,” the article stated.

In response to news of the minority employees’ outcry at the brand, Adidas said today that it “actively evaluates and seeks to strengthen our programs and policies to ensure we are recruiting, retaining, and advancing a diverse team.”

It said it recently expanded its Diversity and Inclusion team in North America to focus on underrepresented communities in its workforce “across the talent life cycle.” (Its previous public statements as well as the objectives on its corporate website about internal diversity had focused primarily on gender.)

“We conduct ongoing workplace inclusion education and training for employees across North America,” it added today. “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.”

Adidas is among a growing list of powerhouse athletic brands — whose key constituents are African American and Hispanic consumers — facing new levels of scrutiny regarding their treatment of underrepresented groups within their internal ranks.

Several women employees at Nike Inc. last year called out the brand for a “boy’s club culture” in another New York Times exposé. Meanwhile, Under Armour faced its own supposed #MeToo moment when a Wall Street Journal article said it had allowed a years-long practice of executives expensing strip club visits.

For its part, Nike last July announced its plan to raise salaries for 10 percent of its workforce to help correct pay inequity. The company has also publicly released more data surrounding its internal diversity makeup as well as its heightened objectives to raise the bar on inclusion.

In an annual report, dubbed Nike Impact, the brand last month said it increased VP-level representation of women by 4% to 36% globally and VP-level representation of U.S. underrepresented groups by 3% to 19%. The company said it also succeeded in reaching a global pay equity ratio for men to women, and white to underrepresented groups in the U.S. (In the United States, women still earn about 80 cents to a man’s dollar, according to data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.)

In an FN exclusive in February, UA’s CEO Kevin Plank noted that the brand has also accelerated its focus on diversity — hiring in late January former Harley Davidson executive Tchernavia Rocker as its first chief people and culture officer.

“I don’t know of a company in the world that says, ‘Our [representation] numbers are great,’ ” Plank said at the time. “I can brag about 49 percent [of our workforce being women], but I want to make sure that we’re driving gender representation at every level of the company. I don’t know if we’re where we want to be, but I know we’re in a pretty good position — we’re not starting from zero.”

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