Adidas Top Exec Kate Ridley on How #MeToo Changed Corporate Culture & What It Will Take for Women to Run the World

Every day in June, FN is showcasing female leaders across the industry for our Women in Power series.

With more than two decades of experience under her belt, Kate Ridley, SVP and brand director for Adidas, has honed her ability to navigate the ins and out of the sports industry.

In her arsenal, the executive — who has risen through the ranks of Adidas since she joined the company as a category manager in 1999 — has powerful insight from the pre-#MeToo era when acceptable workplace behavior was markedly different than it is today. She’s also garnered invaluable lessons about how to advance in the male-dominated athletic space and the importance of blazing new paths for other women.

Here, she talks #MeToo changes and what it will take for more women to get ahead.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership in the fashion and footwear industries?

“I have always liked the quote from activist Marian Wright Edelman: ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ Representation is still an issue when you look at leadership in our industry, and visibility is the answer. Collectively we can break barriers through being present and educating women about their potential and helping them see their limitless possibilities. Women can run the world, but they need to see other women around them doing it, and they need their support.”

What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you? What are you doing to support the next generation?

“Options for all of the powerful women coming up today and tomorrow are bountiful. We have to pull each other up. There are so many women at all levels who inspire me and pick me up when I feel challenged — I try to do the same on the daily to keep the cycle going. I put energy into showing people — all people, not just women — their unique gifts. The world needs more authentic, honest and vulnerable connections and if I can embody this, it gives other people permission to do the same. Through vulnerability we can tap into our biggest, boldest potential. However, a challenge I see is that there is too much ‘sameness’ — We have to acknowledge that much of the success belongs to young, white, straight women. I want to celebrate, include and encourage more members of the LGBTQ community; more women of color, differently abled women to succeed.”

Have you encountered resistance when working under — or leading — men? How did you overcome that?

“Over the last twenty years, I have been in many boardrooms, meetings, negotiations, and I was the only woman. I usually never noticed. I believe there are good partners and bosses, and bad ones, and it’s not really related to their gender. My antidote to resistance: be unapologetically ambitious, be confident and relentless, and do what you love. If you want something, go out and get it, with the power of your network behind you.”

What is a powerful leadership moment you’ve experienced?

“Most of my most important and powerful moments have been mistakes or failures. Every mistake is a lesson learned, and a step towards improvement. I believe that winners are losers who got back up. So my advice is learn to love and embrace failing as your path forward. I have also had some powerful moments through challenges — when I have had to make tough decisions and I thought people would hate me for it, I learned that teams actually admire and support you in tough moments if you are willing to do the right thing no matter how difficult.”

What advice do you have for women negotiating a salary increase, promotion or other challenging issue at work?

“Do your homework. Know your worth, get data points to support you and don’t be shy in saying the number you believe represents your worth. There is an emotional context to negotiating compensation. There have been times that I have cried talking about salary and I can’t even explain why! We need to get over it. Preparation really helps and a healthy dose of confidence in the unique talents you bring to the table.”

How has #MeToo changed the professional landscape and your workplace specifically?

“Twenty-ish years ago, I worked in a global advertising agency. Every day, the managing director would tap me on the bottom in a friendly, paternal way. I never said anything because it was normalized in societies behaviors towards women. Today we can all agree that it’s completely not OK.  The #MeToo movement has further opened the door for people to speak up and demand equality and rights — for both men and women. Specifically, in the sports industry, there has been a spotlight on behaviors of equality, bullying, and harassment that is levelling behavior. It makes a difference to people’s productivity — when people feel safe and valued, they can reach their fullest potential.” 

What is the best decision you’ve ever made? The worst?

“The best decisions I make are when I commit to be myself and to celebrate and embrace who I am. We can all take bigger steps away from self-doubt and comparison — it doesn’t serve us. I am so lucky that I work for a company that allows me to bring my whole self to work every day. My worst decisions? I forgot them already! They turned into sustenance for learning and self-improvement, or stories to laugh at myself.”

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