Under Armour (UA) CEO Kevin Plank gave an exclusive interview to Footwear News on Thursday, addressing the company’s missteps and claims of a toxic work culture. The company recently let go of two long-time executives, Ryan Kuehl and Walker Jones, following a report that UA employees were expense tripping visits to strip clubs and that the work environment was not inclusive to female employees. In addition, there have been claims that employees have been declined advancement based on race or gender. Despite an allegedly toxic work culture, Plank insists that the company is largely comprised of women, with females representing a portion of the board of directors (22%) as well as the company’s leadership (about 33%). Plank did not quite address claims that UA’s work culture does not foster a sense of inclusiveness for diverse employees, but insists that UA is “a company that will fight for you. We’re a company for the little guy.”
Plank’s interview sheds more light on a common issue that companies face in the quest for diversity and inclusion. Diversity is often mistaken for inclusiveness but the two terms are not synonymous. You can have diversity but not be inclusive, and that is often what organizational leaders fail to realize. Representation is just one piece of the puzzle. If the organization is not doing anything to create a sense of belonging for all employees, it cannot call itself a diverse and inclusive company. Although UA, like many organizations, has diverse representation in their leadership, they may not do enough to create an equitable environment for all employees. Once you have diverse talent, what can be done to create a workplace that helps to foster equity and inclusivity?
Diversity and inclusion are words that are often used interchangeably but it’s important for companies to understand that they are two exclusive terms. You can have diversity without inclusion, so the goal should not just be to have diverse talent within the organization. Leaders should strive to create an environment where they are able to not only attract diverse employees but are also able to retain them.
By Janice Gassam
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