As the General Manager of North America and Reebok veteran of 27 years, I’ve been through cultural shifts and ups and downs for the brand. The Reebok culture, especially as it relates to diversity and inclusion, today is very different from the Reebok of 27 years ago, and while we still have a ways to go, we’re making progress. And that progress is a good thing.

For the first time in my tenure, I’m proud to share that we have five employee resource groups (ERGs) – The Women’s Network, Colorful Soles, T.I.E.D. (Talent Invested in Ethnic Diversity), Working Parents and Passport Diversity – who play an instrumental role in our mission of fostering a welcoming and inclusive culture for all.

five people having a meeting, diversity
Supporting employee resource groups at Reebok is instrumental to fostering a welcoming and inclusive culture for all.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a Diversity & Inclusion panel hosted by our T.I.E.D ERG with Tru Pettigrew: a consultant with expertise in bridging gaps across racial, relational, social, cultural and generational differences within organizations and also an old friend of mine. Moderated by Tru, the panel of employees discussed their experiences in both their personal lives as well as within Reebok. The conversation was not only eye-opening, it left me inspired to do, listen and learn more.

In the spirit of continuous improvement, here are three lessons I want to share:

1. Be vulnerable

As a co-sponsor of Colorful Soles, our LGBTQ+ ERG, I have found that vulnerability opens the doors to conversations that wouldn’t happen otherwise. While the conversations won’t always be comfortable, they’re necessary. You can’t learn where your blind spots are if you’re not willing to be coached.

Like good sportsmanship, approaching diversity and inclusion requires respect, support and communication; we can only overcome division by being more empathetic and thoughtful towards those around us with positive intent.

2. Be intentional

To excel in any sport, you need time and commitment to build your skills. You can’t sit idly and expect to improve; you must be intentional in your training. The same applies to creating and fostering an inclusive culture. We can’t expect positive change to come about if we’re doing nothing about it.

I’ve found that any temporary discomfort or embarrassment is often necessary for healing and understanding to take place. It’s important because the only way we can improve and move forward is if we do it together.

It’s tough to challenge yourself and but remember the discomfort is temporary and the rewards great.

3. Meet people where they are on their journeys

We all have unique backgrounds and life experiences, which means it’s only natural that we will be at different points on our journey. It’s critical that we recognize how much this impacts our culture. No one person has the same life journey as another.

It’s the same in sports – not everyone on a team will start off with an equal skillset. Some players might be able to run faster or throw farther, while others will be more adept at understanding game tactics, and that is okay. However, in order to improve any skill: there must be a willingness to learn, intention to improve and, like everything, it takes time.

As a father, leader, friend and ally I’m always striving to be better in every facet of my life. In many ways, my journey of truly understanding diversity and inclusion has only just begun. Fortunately, I am surrounded by incredible people who are willing to support and teach me every step of the way – my colleagues.

Have employee resource groups helped broaden your view of your organization and the world? How do you coach and develop your teams to become more diverse and inclusive?

I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

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