Adidas Executive Resigns as Turmoil at Company Continues

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A top Adidas executive resigned on Tuesday, weeks after a number of Black employees pushed for her ouster amid a wider outcry over what they said were past acts of racism and discrimination at the company.

Karen Parkin, who is British, had been the only woman on Adidas’s six-person executive board since 2017, and was responsible for human resources across the company. She worked for Adidas for over 20 years in sales, business development and supply chain positions across Britain and the United States and at the company’s headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany.

“Her decision to leave the company reflects that commitment and her belief that a new H.R. leader will best drive forward the pace of change that Adidas needs at this time,” said Igor Landau, chairman of the company’s supervisory board, in a release announcing her resignation. Germany has a two-tiered board system in which a supervisory board is elected both by shareholders and employees, while the executive board runs the day-to-day operations of the company.

In a letter sent to employees and seen by The New York Times, Ms. Parkin acknowledged that she had lost the trust of Adidas employees.

“While I would very much like to lead this critical transformation effort, after much reflection and listening to the feedback I’ve received, I have come to accept that I am not the right person to lead that change,” she wrote. “While I have always stood 100 percent against racism and discrimination and worked to create a more equitable environment, I recognize that the focus on me has become a hindrance inhibiting the company from moving forward.”

For weeks, a group of Adidas employees have held protests outside of the company’s North American headquarters in Portland, Ore. They say the company’s top executives have fostered a culture that permitted racism and discrimination, and failed to invest in Black employees or respect Black culture while exploiting those two groups to sell shoes and apparel.

This month, Ms. Parkin, who is white, apologized for her response when describing how Adidas “viewed issues of race within our North American headquarters” during a meeting last year. Her apology came via a post on an internal company messaging system that was viewed by The Times.

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Credit…Bernadette Little

It was a response to an open letter from Aaron Ture, a product manager at Reebok, an Adidas subsidiary based in Boston. In his letter, Mr. Ture described an all-company meeting held in Boston in August in which Ms. Parkin, who lived in Portland but whose office was in Germany, was asked about racism within the company.

“This is noise we only hear in North America,” Mr. Ture recalled Ms. Parkin’s responding, though he acknowledged that he could not remember her exact response word for word. “I do not believe there is an issue, so I do not feel the need to answer this question.”

Ms. Parkin’s apology — in which she wrote, “Should I have offended anyone, I apologize” — struck many employees as hollow.

“You’re willing to acknowledge your handling of the response was wrong, but cannot take full ownership and give a sincere apology?” one employee responded on the internal messaging system. “This is so disappointing.”

Another simply posted a link to the Wikipedia article for a non-apology apology.

In mid-June, dozens of Adidas employees sent a letter to the company’s supervisory board, asking it to investigate whether Ms. Parkin had taken the right approach to racism in the workplace, according to The Wall Street Journal.

An investigation by The Times a year ago revealed that the company’s predominantly white leadership in Portland was struggling with issues of race and discrimination. And the company has stumbled in its response to the worldwide protests after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck. In late May, it posted on Instagram an image of the word “racism” crossed out, which many employees saw as ineffectual.

Credit…Gabby Jones for The New York Times

One group of mostly Black employees began working with the mostly white leadership in Portland on a list of demands — including more diverse hiring and an investment in the Black community — to present to executives in Germany, while another began daily noon protests outside of the company’s campus. Employees shared stories of discrimination and racist encounters on social media, in meetings and in open letters addressed to their superiors.

In response, Adidas pledged that 30 percent of its new hires would be Black or Latino. It also pledged to expand funding for programs that address racial disparities to $120 million over five years and to fund 50 college scholarships a year for Black students over the next five years.

And the company posted new images on Instagram, these stating unequivocally that “black lives matter” and that “the success of adidas would be nothing without Black athletes, Black artists, Black employees and Black consumers. Period.”

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