What leadership can learn from Adidas HR chief’s resignation

Company Culture Diversity diversity and inclusion employee experience HR Leadership inclusion Top Stories

The head of human resources at Adidas announced Tuesday that she is leaving the sportswear company following criticism that she wasn’t doing enough to help Black employees.

“I am deeply committed to our goals of creating a more diverse, inclusive and equitable company. While we have made progress in many areas, there is much more work to be done,” Adidas HR chief Karen Parkin said in a statement posted on the company’s website. “However, it has become clear to me that to unify the organization it would be better for me to retire and pave the way for change.

“Now is the right time for a new HR leader to take over the function, to seize the opportunity before us and drive forward the pace of change to create a more diverse and inclusive Adidas that we can all be proud of.”

Related: 4 strategies for addressing racial tensions, unrest

Parkin’s departure follows news of Adidas employees who criticized the company, arguing that its recent public messages condemning racism, following the death of George Floyd, didn’t align with how employees were treated internally. A group of dozens of employees sent a letter asking the supervisory board to investigate Parkin’s approach to racial issues in the workplace.

In response, Adidas earlier this month pledged it would increase its number of Black employees as well as invest money in Black communities. The company said a minimum of 30% of all new positions in the U.S. at Adidas and Reebok will be filled with Black and Latino employees and that it will finance 50 university scholarships for Black students each year over five years.

But many didn’t feel it was enough.

Tackling racism and social injustice is a challenge faced by many employers as they try to find their footing amid the racial injustice protests taking place across the nation.

Related: How one firm plans to tackle racism, social injustice

Jill Smart, president of the National Academy of Human Resources, says that while she can’t speak directly to Adidas’ situation, the news of Parkin’s departure signifies that “all leaders have a responsibility to ensure that racism has no place in our society and in particular in the workplace that they lead.”

Even more so, Smart says, human resources leaders “need to be role models on the forefront in this pursuit of social justice and play a key role in holding employees, leaders and all stakeholders accountable when they accept anything less. This is an area where HR leaders need to be relentless and courageous and not back down.”

While the company praised Parkin’s contributions to the company, it said it was in the “best interests of our company and our people” to appoint a new HR leader.

“[Parkin’s] decision to leave the company reflects that commitment and her belief that a new HR leader will best drive forward the pace of change that Adidas needs at this time,” said Igor Landau, chairman of the supervisory board of Adidas AG.

Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted will assume responsibility for global human resources on an interim basis until a successor is appointed.