Building Diversity in Teams? Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
How members of adidas’ Diversity and Inclusion team create a culture of belonging.
Aaron Limonthas was barely a teenager when he first realized the importance of inclusion.
“That was the first time I realized two people can exist in the same space and have completely different experiences,” he says. “I didn’t look at that like, ‘Oh, that’s your problem.’ It was like, ‘Oh, what can I do to make sure everyone has a pleasant experience, because I love it here and I don’t want anyone to not share that experience.’”
Inclusion was a personal pursuit long before it was professional for Emmy Negrin, too.
She spent some time living and socializing in different countries and communities growing up — and most were in stark contrast to the more homogenous, affluent community where she grew up. This disparity inspired her to study international development, social change, and communications in college and later spend her first few years out of school, working for nonprofits, social enterprises and international development organizations.
“That was my entry point into understanding how you can come from totally different cultural contexts and support another kind of community; how you can be an agent of change, while really listening to the community versus making assumptions about what they need,” Emmy said.
Being agents for change
“Sport can be a vehicle for bringing people together and fighting for equality and equity.”Emmy Negrin, Director Diversity and Inclusion at adidas
Aaron and Emmy recognized the need for listening, understanding and inclusion in their different communities early on. As members of adidas’ Diversity and Inclusion team, they can now turn their ideas into action by using the power of sport as a means for social and cultural change.
“Sport builds community and breaks down a lot of walls,” Emmy said. “As a soccer player, the ball has been a way for me to connect across language and cultural barriers. Sport can be a vehicle for bringing people together and fighting for equality and equity.”
“... it's really about celebrating difference and individual uniqueness, where skillsets are valued and people feel that their voice can be heard and celebrated.”Emmy Negrin, Director Diversity and Inclusion at adidas
Diversity and inclusion is a team sport, and that’s why Aaron and Emmy work with people throughout the organization to ensure all teams and leaders are empowered to create an inclusive culture.
“For us, it’s really about celebrating difference and individual uniqueness, where skillsets are valued and people feel that their voice can be heard and celebrated,” Emmy said. “And that’s inclusive of not only our employees, but our partners and consumers too.”
For his part, Aaron thinks the concept behind the work is simple: “It’s equity. It’s treating people the way they should be treated. I think that the [work] is just understanding the different nuances as to why that isn’t happening.”
Bringing more voices to the table
When asked about how to create a more inclusive culture, both Emmy and Aaron emphasized the significance of focusing on the needs of other people and embracing the vulnerability required to admit you don’t have all the answers.
“It’s about giving voice to people that don’t traditionally have a seat at the table,” Emmy shared. “If I walk into a room and everyone looks like me, I ask ‘Who’s not in here?’ I’m mindful of how much my voice is dominating, and I normalize asking people, ‘What do you think?’ A lot of times it’s hard because you get it wrong. But being able to be comfortable being uncomfortable is really where the magic is at.”
“I want people to walk away just knowing they have the ability to change someone’s experience for the better”Aaron Limonthas, Senior Manager Diversity and Inclusion at adidas
“I want people to walk away just knowing they have the ability to change someone’s experience for the better,” Aaron said. “It’s on all of us and the urgency is now. You don’t have to be the president of the company — but you can still spark change in your space, just by exercising that muscle of ‘How can I help someone else benefit in this moment?’”
Emmy agrees: “I believe that we have enough resource and opportunities to address inequity in a totally different way. That’s the call right now for humanity: How can we use our collective power to change the world that we’re in . . . and then leave it just a little bit better?”