Jun 7th 2021

BLM Spotlight: Diversity and inclusion at Adidas one year later

No one could’ve predicted the backlash and protests that followed the death of George Floyd whilst in police custody last year. It was an event that showed an undeniable need for change. People all over the world joined together in the fight for equality and diversity and inclusion. 

Businesses could no longer put diversity and inclusion low down on the priority list. Companies turned their attention to their diversity and inclusion strategy, taking the necessary steps to put initiatives and a plan in place. 

We sat down with Marcell Edwards, Global Talent Acquisition and Global Diversity Champion at adidas, to hear about how they have approached diversity and inclusion over the last year and their initiatives going forward. 

To kick things off, did you have a diversity and inclusion strategy in place before the Black Lives Matter movement?

We’ve always had some form of diversity and inclusion strategy, but it was never truly publicised. The main focus was around gender equality and disability. I went to an event before the BLM movement that made me realise we needed to also focus on race, ethnicity, and culture within adidas. I floated the idea around but it just wasn’t a priority above the other two. The approach was more: if you have time outside of your day job then go for it. But there were performance measurements to be met and so there just wasn’t time to expand the focus to other groups. 

How has the Black Lives Matter movement influenced your approach to diversity and inclusion in your business over the last year? 

Black Lives Matter has triggered people across the business to take action with groups, such as, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), to make everyone feel included. What happened to George Floyd has really pushed the focus across all types of groups, not just women and those with disabilities. The reaction in adidas was to take something negative and turn it into a positive.

“We took the negative of George Floyd and the power of communication to make everyone stand up and say this is huge, we can’t just be focusing on gender and disability, overlooking the other groups.”

How did the Black Lives Matter protests last year affect people across your business? 

I am one of 70,000 employees at adidas worldwide. The George Floyd incident really struck a chord with me, so I thought to myself: if there’s communication coming out on what the brand is doing from a COVID point of view, then why isn’t the same happening around racial equality and people’s feelings towards the issue of diversity and inclusion. I decided to speak to the Vice President of HR at the time, Tony Cooke, about how I was a bit upset by the whole matter. He told me to change the narrative and make the brand acknowledge that this is a moment in time that we need to show true collaboration and support to all our people. 

In the UK specifically, I was aware of others with the same opinion. I was encouraged to get together with others in the same boat to share our thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Tony said he would then use his voice as Vice President of HR to influence decision-makers. We grew from a group of seven to thirteen, and together we strove to understand what we needed from the brand personally and professionally. We connected to London HQ and held sessions to understand the positive things we were doing and what we were missing. We are now called the Unity group and are globally recognised as an ERG sat within the UK, having heard from 279 employees in our listening sessions.  

What impact has this group had on the approach of adidas towards diversity and inclusion? 

We presented to the Senior Leadership Team a set of recommendations and guidance on the changes we wanted to see. We presented tangible facts and case studies to back ourselves. Every single person in the Senior Leadership Team listened and wanted to support us. They encouraged us to keep growing and start creating changes. So we broke down processes such as recruitment for adidas careers, B2B, education, and training. All this time, things were starting to happen globally across adidas as well. Training modules were being implemented from the top and ERGs were launched in every marketplace.

“The Senior Leadership Team at adidas worked hard to make sure every employee felt welcomed, safe, and listened to.”

What significant initiatives have you taken over the last year to promote diversity and inclusion in your business? 

We have made some great partnership collaborations between our brand leaders and groups such as the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation. But the biggest thing that got implemented was initial training that touched upon D&I topics that everyone could understand and learn about globally. There was also an ERG strategy network group that was a great avenue of support for employees. If you wish to talk about a particular issue within diversity and inclusion then an employee, wherever they are based in the world, can see the correct group within that framework to go to for support. This network creates a safe environment for like-minded individuals to get the advice and support they need. It also helps shape and influence the overall company culture, with campaign and business decisions being influenced by the ERGs.

What does your diversity and inclusion strategy look like now one year later? 

“Diversity and inclusion are even more embedded into a global strategy and have become synonymous in everything we do.”

We now make sure that everything we are doing has a diversity and inclusion lens. Our strategy has structures in places such as ERGs, leaders on a counsel that talks about inclusion, cultural ambassadors, and voices from all demographics. All these together mean that we can now understand everyone’s problems. 

Do you have any future plans or initiatives to continue improving diversity and inclusion in your business? 

We have started hiring more diversity and inclusion experts globally. We are now going to have someone in the UK, which we have never had before. This comes from the realisation that we can’t rely on employees to focus on it as an extension of their job. 

Another initiative we are launching is the idea that if you want it then create it. If people want to create an ERG then they speak to a global group on the matter and see whether they want it as an extension or a separate group entirely. Then if it gets to ERG status that’s great, if it doesn’t then it becomes a coalition and still has a seat on the table. 

Further initiatives such as a diversity and inclusion calendar of events are also in the works. We want to make sure we celebrate key cultural moments the brand can get behind, such as Ramadan, as well as local moments. We will make sure every race is included. 

Thank you so much for speaking with us. It sounds like adidas have really taken some great steps towards having a strong diversity and inclusion strategy in place. It’s been a big year of change and every business should be doing what they can to fight towards equality in everything they do. 

Have a read here about how other companies have approached diversity and inclusion one year later.