Black workers at the Adidas North America headquarters in Portland tell The New York Times internal company culture doesn't match its brand image—which touts diversity and often highlights black superstars in ad campaigns and product lines.
At the Portland Adidas campus, the Times reported, fewer than 4.5 percent of the headquarters' 1,700 employees are black, while almost 78 percent are white. Dozens of current and former employees who spoke with the New York Times said the company's black employees often feel marginalized and experience discrimination.
In meetings, sources told the Times "they were frequently the only black person in [the room] and often felt their input was not valued when decisions were being made."
"And an overall lack of racial diversity, they said, meant it was not uncommon for negative stereotypes to creep into work discussions or marketing pitches involving black athletes, sometimes creating backlash outside the company," the Times wrote.
One black employee at the North Portland campus shared text messages with the Times that show a white co-worker using a racist slur. The worker said they believed the slur was intended as a joke, which "only highlighted the company's skewed perspective on race."
During one meeting, workers said an idea to feature Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard as a courtroom defendant was pitched as part of a campaign titled "All Rise." The idea, "was scuttled when a black employee pointed out the racial overtones of a black man's being put on trial," the Times wrote.
Last year, the president of Adidas North America, Zion Armstrong, held a staff meeting in Portland where workers said he stressed the company need to "intensify its diversity efforts." Later, in a meeting with Progressive Soles, a worker-led, mostly minority group, employees said he reneged and claimed the company workforce reflected Portland's demographics (the city is 77 percent white, according to Census Bureau figures) and that black employees weren't being promoted because there weren't any who were ready.
Karen Parkin, global head of human resources for the company, told the Times that the company was aware it had work to do to address racism.
"We want to be humble," Parkin said. "We're not where we need to be in all of the locations around the world. But we're not afraid to have the conversation, either."
Parkin added that Portland "isn't the most diverse city in the U.S.," and that the company needs to do more to attract diverse employees to the area.
A spokesperson for Adidas North America, Stacey Marsh, tells WW the company is expanding its recruitment and training efforts, "to ensure we are recruiting, retaining, and advancing a diverse team."
"Recently, we have expanded our Diversity and Inclusion team in North America to focus on underrepresented communities in our workforce across the talent lifecycle; and we conduct ongoing workplace inclusion education and training for employees across North America," Marsh says. "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."
Read the full New York Times story here.