Adidas HR chief to retire after criticism from black employees

“I have decided to retire and pave the way for change,” Karen Parkin wrote in a memo to staff

Karen Parkin, the global head of human resources at Adidas AG, is retiring from the company following some employee complaints about the sportswear giant’s culture and lack of diversity.

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“I have decided to retire and pave the way for change,” Ms. Parkin wrote in a memo to staff, which was viewed by The Wall Street Journal. She wrote that she had always stood against racism and worked to create a more equitable environment, but “I recognize that the focus on me has become a hindrance inhibiting the company from moving forward.”

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A group of employees at Adidas had called on the company’s supervisory board in a letter earlier in June to investigate whether Ms. Parkin had taken the right approach to address racial issues in the workplace. At the time, Adidas said, “we strongly reject all statements made in the letter to the supervisory board.”

At an all-employee meeting last year at the Boston headquarters of Reebok, which is owned by Adidas, Ms. Parkin said racism was “noise” that is only discussed in America, and that she didn’t believe the brand had an issue with racism, the Journal has reported.

On June 12, Ms. Parkin said she “should have chosen a better word” at the Reebok meeting, according to a message she posted on an internal Adidas communications network that was viewed by the Journal. She added, “it was my responsibility to make clear our definitive stance against discrimination, and this I did not. Should I have offended anyone, I apologize.” In response, dozens of employees called on her to issue a more sincere apology with some referring to her statement as a “non-apology apology.”

Ms. Parkin didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on her retirement memo. A spokeswoman for Adidas referred to a press release, quoting Igor Landau, the chairman of the supervisory board. In the release, he said Ms. Parkin has always acted in the best interest of the company and its people. “Her 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,” he said.

Following the killing of George Floyd in May, Adidas, like many brands, took to social media to speak out against racism. Yet, some Black employees at the company’s U.S. offices told the Journal the corporate culture at the German company is far from equitable.

Adidas has committed to increasing the number of Black employees and investing $120 million in racial-justice causes in the U.S. and Black communities. The sportswear giant said a minimum of 30% of all new positions in the U.S. at Adidas and Reebok will be filled with Black and Latino people and that it would finance 50 university scholarships for Black students each year over five years.

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Ms. Parkin, who is British, joined Adidas in 1997 as a sales director in the U.K. She rose through several executive roles, including head of its global supply chain and was promoted to its human resources chief in 2014. In 2017, she was the first woman named to its executive board since 1993.

In her memo, she said travel restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic had also made it difficult for her to commute between her home in Portland, Ore., and her office in Germany.

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