Adidas HR Chief Resigns After Pressure Over Racially Insensitive Leadership

Karen Parkin, executive board member of Adidas AG and head of Global Human Resources, is stepping down from her post after 23 years at the company, effective today.

Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted will assume responsibility for the department on an interim basis until a successor is appointed.

“Karen has played a key role in the success and growth of Adidas over the past few years. She elevated and centralized Human Resources into a world-class function, developed and led our People Strategy and launched many successful employee programs,” Rorsted said in a statement. “She has played a significant part in our focus over the past few weeks as to how we move forward as a company to fight racial inequality and build a more diverse Adidas.”

Parkin’s resignation follows weeks of unrest at the company, stemming from years-long challenges surrounding its diversity and inclusion efforts. Those issues reached a fever pitch amid national tensions over racial equality in the United States following the death of George Floyd.

Early this month, a 13-member coalition representing more than 200 Adidas employees called for Parkin’s resignation. They cited comments she made last year at a company meeting in Boston at Adidas-owned brand Reebok, where she responded to a question regarding reports that Adidas was facing significant challenges in how it treated minority employees.

Parkin, sources told FN, described concerns over racial disparities as “noise” and further suggested the company did not need to take action as the criticisms were only present in its North America offices for Adidas.

Adidas, karen parkin, hr
Former Adidas HR chief Karen Parkin.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand

In an internal memo sent to Adidas staffers on June 12, Parkin, who has been head of Global Human Resources since November 2014, expressed regret for her commentary — adding that she should have chosen a “better word” in describing how the company “viewed issues of race.”

Still, sources told FN, minority employees had continued to push for Parkin’s resignation in recent weeks, with several citing her leadership strategy as a key hindrance to the organization’s D&I progress.

Nevertheless, Igor Landau, chairman of Adidas’ supervisory board, today echoed Rorsted’s sentiments, noting that Parkin had “served Adidas with leadership and dedication for more than 23 years and always acted in the best interests of our company and our people.”

“Her decision to leave the company reflects that commitment and her belief that a new HR leader will best drive forward the pace of change that Adidas needs at this time,” he added.

In an internal memo sent by Parkin to Adidas staffers today, and obtained by FN, the former company exec also credited herself with bringing diverse talent to the brand and “creating a work environment that fosters creativity, high performance, collaboration and inclusivity.”

Parkin said the recent attention on her leadership was inhibiting the company from moving forward and that her need to travel between Portland, Ore., where the company’s North America HQ is located, and Germany amid COVID-19 were both contributing factors in her decision to retire and “pave the way for change.”

Roughly two years of turmoil came to a head for Adidas this month when two groups — the 200-plus collective supported by the coalition, and another, led by Julia Bond, assistant designer for Adidas Originals apparel — engaged in days of protests demanding change in how the brand treats it Black staffers.

Several Black employees at Adidas united to form the coalition with the explicit goal of yielding swift and permanent change in how the company supports its Black team members and community at-large — with an added emphasis on pushing the brand’s top management in Germany to drive the organizational reset.

On June 2, the group — then representing about 100 employees — delivered to Adidas North America management, including president Zion Armstrong, a 32-page deck, dubbed “Our State of Emergency.”

In addition to claims that management “doesn’t grasp the discrimination minorities might face” and that “the difference in perception is largest in Germany,” the document had listed four major “asks.” The coalition had demanded the company invest in its Black employees; the Black community; the fight for racial justice and change for Black people — and demonstrate accountability.

For its part, Adidas has responded with several new D&I initiatives: Since June 9, it established a global Committee to Accelerate Inclusion & Equality; announced new minimum targets in the U.S. for increased representation of Black and LatinX people; pledged 50 university scholarships in the U.S. each year for Black students at partner schools; and is investing $120 million toward U.S. initiatives focused on ending racial injustice and/or supporting Black communities through 2025.

Parkin had joined Adidas in 1997 and held several leadership roles before becoming head of HR roughly five and a half years ago.

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