Beyonce, Pharrell, Please Cancel Adidas

So, Adidas is in the news for diversity problems. Employees at its Portland headquarters say they’ve been marginalized and discriminated against. Apparently management perpetuates a high school clique type environment, and ignores minority voices in favor of more familiar faces, often to the detriment of the business. Like having to pull your all white sneaker offering – in honor of Black History month, no less – from the shelves…sigh.

Let’s assume for the sake of this blog, that it’s true. This well known, global brand is actually this dumb. An article in Business Insider immediately references – presumably – some white person complaining that the black people in the company all sit together in the cafeteria.

“Some were reportedly told that this made their white colleagues “nervous” and could hurt their chances of getting a promotion if it seemed as if they were not trying to fit the “Adidas mold.”

Let’s unpack that, shall we?

First of all, there are so few black employees at the company, it’s noticeable when they sit together? Because that’s all there is, at that one table? In case my sarcasm obfuscated the point, I’m saying three things:

One, there are too few black people working at a company that has made a name for itself creating products that represent a longstanding, visual representation of hip hop culture – which despite current suggestions and evidence to the contrary – was in fact, created by black people. Two, what does this mold look like exactly? And three, grow the f*$! up. Really. That’s just silly. A table full of black people makes you nervous, so, you can’t promote them? I call bullshit.

Surely the few black faces at the organization’s main office know better than to speak to each other, potentially support, help or otherwise nurture each other in an environment where they likely don’t feel entirely welcome? Okay, I’m really going to make an effort to control my sarcasm. No, I’m not.

Seriously, you know what I find absolutely amazing? That leaders at big companies like Adidas don’t get bored with being stupid. I suppose it helps to have heaping fat bags of money to fall onto should you take a tumble. But really. You’ve got hugely famous, black, household name collabs – Beyonce, Kanye, Pharrell – on your roster, a history of product placement that goes back to the very roots of hip hop. We’re talking, Run DMC era. Yet the talent pool for people of color in your organization is still so small, you have no idea how to treat them? Are there really so few black sneaker heads and athleisure wear fans in Portland?

I know how you should treat your minority employees – and this won’t require extensive consulting fees, PR crisis management, rebranding and is quite the versatile solution with additional ready applications – treat them like you would anyone else, with dignity and respect. Be professional. Be fair. Be honest. Be considerate, and be thoughtful. If those basic tenets of civilized human behavior are unfamiliar, then the black people on staff at Adidas never had a chance anyway.

But back to the leaders. Perhaps they feel comfortable knowing that while black people and all those lovely hip hop dollars helped turn them into a very wealthy brand, their main customer base is no longer black, but white – as in the throngs of suburban kids who live, eat and breathe hip hop culture and have plenty of their parents money with which to purchase all that’s cool – and Asian – those global pockets of diehard hip hop heads – in China, Japan and South Korea – for whom English is a second or even third language, yet they can recite all the latest rap lyrics with more precision than Twista at a summer jam concert.

“…a spokesperson for Adidas said that the company has recently expanded its diversity and inclusion team in the US to focus on underrepresented communities.

“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,” she added.

Adidas recently expanded its diversity and inclusion team in the US? Recently? Really? So, it’s just now occurring to them that it would be a good idea to get to know a significant facet of their customer base? The best way to do that is to hire people who look like those customers. But perhaps that hiring mentality ran out after Beyonce and Kanye came on board?

The company says it has made progress – I really hope they’re not talking about that table full of brown faces who are now complaining that they’re being discriminated against – and recognize that more work needs to be done. Okay, but here’s the thing. Talent management, diversity and inclusion, these things are so basic, so foundational, for leaders to neglect them just seems, what’s the right word? It’s not stupid entirely, maybe, counterintuitive?

Are these leaders delusions so grand they don’t see the similarities between their actions and every other big name, small name, and every name in between company that has been sued, canceled or otherwise replaced in the global marketplace for doing – or not doing – the exact same things? Or, are their delusions so grand that in this era of instant accountability, they think their mistakes are so fine they won’t be caught in the net?

“Without a diverse selection of people and voices, negative stereotypes have been able to creep into marketing campaigns, these employees said, referencing recent missteps such as when Adidas released all-white sneakers in a line that was meant to commemorate Black History Month. Adidas removed the sneakers after this provoked a backlash.”

Beyonce, Pharrell, please cancel Adidas. Your star power has helped to make these people so rich, they’ve gone nose blind to their own stink. At this point, any person or any organization that hasn’t learned that an understanding and appreciation for diversity is good business, they don’t care to learn. There are many other options that provide equal or better products out there that deal in reality, embrace change, and don’t see the threat in a little competition in the workforce. Let’s work with and for them.

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