Mar 08, 2023

With Women We Run: The Parallels of Allyship in Sports and in the Workplace

How an Ally Run at the adidas HQ shines a light on building equity for women
by Jennifer Valentinestaff

It’s a cold hard truth that while running is one of the most accessible sports, it’s also one of the most dangerous for women. That’s why over three hundred of us come together for the ‘Ally Run’ outside our headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany. Many of us know each other, many don’t. But we are all runners, and we are here to take a stance. The positive vibes in this circle of allies is off the charts; it’s the perfect blend of support and feeling safe.

One of our adidas Runner coaches, Fernanda Salvatierra, recites a poem about the dangers of running when the sun sets and you’re on your own.

"But tonight, we’re all in this together you can’t help but feel pumped for the 4km around the campus that’s about to take place."

Jennifer ValentineVice President of Global Football Merchandising

How are we supporting equity in sport?

Our run is extra special on this evening because it’s part of our International Women’s Day and Women’s History month celebration. We’re showing in sports, on the sidewalk right in front of our campus doorstep, how we’re addressing equity challenges that women face daily. For us, equity is all those unique barriers and circumstances we all face day in and day out, where allyship is the support and secret sauce for making a breakthrough.

Running is one of the most accessible sports, all you need is a pair of sneakers—and sometimes, not even that is a deal breaker. But still, us women need to plan our runs carefully.

"Running alone in a tranquil park at sunset—or with the stars shining overhead—with our headphones dialed in to an adrenaline-inducing playlist just isn’t an option for us."

Jennifer ValentineVice President of Global Football Merchandising

Multi-marathon winner Mary Keitany and our CEO Bjørn Gulden lead the charge of our allied brothers and sisters run.Multi-marathon winner Mary Keitany and our CEO Bjørn Gulden lead the charge of our allied brothers and sisters run.

The perils of running for women

We get constant reminders through the media headlines of everything that can go wrong. We get cat called. We feel uneasy if there is someone unfamiliar trailing behind us—because you never know. We just don’t feel safe; and because of that, we can’t enjoy one of the simplest endorphin-releasing activities that makes us feel good about ourselves: the actual run itself.

Being a part of a company that is committed to creating safe havens for us to run together, free from threats, is one of the greatest attributes of working at adidas. I can let my guard down and focus on the positive energy surging amongst my adidas family. This is what allyship looks like in running. In sports, you can find all different flavors of allyship where your teammates feel empowered to hit the clutch and switch to fifth gear.

Embrace equity, achieve possibilities

Running with the adidas Runners on this crisp, clear wintery evening was one place where allyship felt tangible. It felt like a supportive hug that wrapped around all of us and gave each of us a sense of added security so we could just have fun! If you were going to ask me how I would describe the atmosphere, I would say, ‘it was electric with allies.’

"And these allies were a mix of genders doing the one thing anyone can do: joining hands, educating those around you, and imagining what’s it like to be in the running shoes of someone who doesn’t feel safe."

Jennifer ValentineVice President of Global Football Merchandising

When we’re talking about our adidas Runners, this isn’t a one off thing. They’ve established an allied band of runners globally. Through their With Women We Run (WWR) initiative, in collaboration with White Ribbon and Amanda Sussman, they set out in early 2022 to trail blaze cultural change in sports by making it safe for all. The initiative wants to create allies in communities by encouraging men and boys to take action in ensuring the safety of women and contribute to changing the culture that perpetuates gender equality.

Basking in that safe and free feeling with smiles all around during our run.Basking in that safe and free feeling with smiles all around during our run.

Allyship plays a role in your professional development

The day before the run, I participated on a panel alongside two other women colleagues to talk about allyship in the workplace. When Celine Del Genes, our GM of Specialist sports, was asked if she could’ve imagined that she would eventually be responsible for such an integral part of the business after starting off as an intern, she gave a terse answer: no. Her marathon journey in the business started off with a six-month contract as an intern. She was fully prepared to do something else afterwards; that was over 22 years ago—and she’s been with us the whole time.

Celine spoke of those allies that created a safe environment for her to reach her professional summit. “I had [the] trust from some men,” she said at the panel. And 22 years ago, the workplace was a different scene. But given the stage to shine and the kind of allyship that enabled her to share her skillsets, she kept raising her hand. Now she has immense responsibilities in the coolest of industries.

Leverage your ally groups and dare to do more

True to her athletic flair and competitive drive, Celine gazed out to the audience and blurted out “DARE!” Everyone in the audience got the life coaching lesson of a lifetime to dare to bet on yourself, dare to try. And speaking to the allies that supported her along the way, she made no buts about it:

"Reach for allies to support your journey and break down the risks."

Celine Del GenesGeneral Manager of Specialist Sports

My other leadership peer alongside me on the panel, Hoa Ly, GM of Global Sourcing, told her own personal story how she went about achieving equity through allyship. In 2009, she was in a strategy role in Hong Kong and she admitted to her friends that it was probably her last role at adidas because she felt she hit her glass ceiling at the company.

Our IWD panel alongside [from left to right] Vanessa Abrahams-John, our VP of DEI, Hoa Ly, Celine Del Genes, and myself.Our IWD panel alongside [from left to right] Vanessa Abrahams-John, our VP of DEI, Hoa Ly, Celine Del Genes, and myself.

During a performance review with her boss’s line manager, she was asked what she wanted to do next and took her shot: “I want to be the general manger of a country.” While Hoa was met with initial push-back from her boss’s line manager, her direct line manager stood by her side as an ally. As they went through the hard and soft skills needed for the role he said, ‘I could see Hoa in that role,’ and that out in the open kind of allyship bolstered Hoa’s confidence to pursue the role. Two years later Hoa had the role and shares “it was the best job in the company I ever had.”

Allyship is a 24/7 business

Whether it’s in the workplace or on the field or pitch, or in a diamond, stadium, arena, ring—and I’m probably leaving out a few—allyship is how we can embrace equity and achieve possibilities. From my experiences as a soccer player, true allyship is how teams win—but it goes way beyond 90 minutes.

"Allyship makes us feel safe, confident, loved, and able to break barriers."

Jennifer ValentineVice President of Global Football Merchandising

We are only completely aware of those roadblocks that are unique to every one of us given our individual circumstances; and with allyship, we’re able to have the discussion to learn about others. There’s a reason why the expression ‘walk a mile in my shoes’ fits perfectly. And if you were at our 4km run in Herzo, you would gain an understanding of what it feels like to run in Fernanda’s shoes through her poetry: You should be scared of each dark silhouette approaching: steps that speed up from behind, and make your heart beat faster.

On this extraordinary winter evening after work, however, our hearts are beating faster because we are all in our element supporting each other as allies.