Diversity Concerns Lead to Adidas HR Chief Stepping Down


Racial inequity has been making the headlines for the past month. This area of concern has now transcended the social and political framework to make its way into the workplace. DiversityOpens a new window has been a buzzword for many decades across the globe, with several organizations stepping up efforts in this direction. However, real inclusion has been elusive in most organizations despite best efforts towards creating a diverse talent poolOpens a new window . The most recent repercussion of this has been diversity concerns at Adidas, which have led to the immediate and voluntary retirement of HR chief Karen Parkin.

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The core challenge has been trust issues with leadership teams and the presence of bias. Karen Parkin is also an executive board member at Adidas. Her resignation announcement has come as a result of employee criticism about allowing a racist and discriminatory workplace to thrive. While the company is known to sponsor black athletes, internal diversity findings indicateOpens a new window that less than 4.5% of employees at Adidas’ North American headquarters are black. In addition, individuals at the leadership level are almost entirely white. The issues emerging from this situation are critical to understand before any attempts to address them.

1. Clear disconnect between the external and internal brand: In terms of employer brandingOpens a new window , Adidas has indicated gaps in inclusivity. This is evident in its differential approach toward a diverse workforce and product endorsements by brand ambassadors.

2. Limited messaging on diversity from leadership teams: Leaders have not been courageous in addressing employee concerns. Parkin described racism as “noiseOpens a new window ” in a team meeting. She also spoke about the company HQ in Portland having fewer black employees since the city is predominantly populated with white people. Fundamentally, this reflects the seriousness with which diversity and inclusion are viewed. Interviews with black employees have also suggested that they have experienced discrimination and feel marginalized. While Adidas has been carrying out diversity initiatives, it seems that basic principles to address unconscious bias are not focused on in entirety.

3. Executive board almost entirely made up of white male leaders after Parkin’s exit: While this may not be intentional, it reflects that perhaps several employees from different diverse races are not promoted to higher levels. The perception is that their opinion is not valued in business discussions.

This also reflects that companies are perhaps not using HR techOpens a new window to its highest potential in diversity interventions. Extending its use beyond recruitment (to remove unintentional bias) and creating a robust and inclusive talent management system is equally important.

Other challenges include company culture. HR software that creates a process-driven approach to performance measurement, learning, and promotions is the need of the hour. At Adidas, leadership communication was also an area of concern. To address this, virtual mentoring of leaders as well as tools that give them insights into their own biases at the workplace are essential. Leaders can foster the right culture and close the gaps when they have actionable data. For example, several application tracking systems provide in-depth information about applicants. Analyzing such data can result in fair decision making.

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Internal virtual systems can also be used to create an environment where managers and leaders who promote an inclusive team culture are recognized.

Meanwhile, Adidas has announced measuresOpens a new window aimed at creating a more inclusive and racially equitable workplace across its locations, as its black employees specifically from Portland have shared racist encounters they have experienced on social media and in meetings. It is yet to be seen how technology plays a role in enabling these measures, but this is a step forward for Adidas in terms of establishing itself as an equal opportunity employer.

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