“I came to the realization that I, as a female, would not grow in that company,” retail brand designer Francesca Krane told The New York Times. So what company was Krane referring to? None other than Nike, which has often boasted about putting “women front and center for 40 years and counting.”
According to reports, Nike has become a threatening environment for women. And as the #MeToo era promotes transparency and encourages new voices, stories have emerged from the venerable company that are quite disturbing.
Sure, Nike has annual revenues of $36 billion. But it’s also been accused of slapping the wrists of abusive male leaders. And while it has an impressive market value of $112 billion, the company has become known as a place where women are consistently passed over for promotions.
This state of affairs resulted in a couple significant trends. First, many talented women decided to leave the company. At the same time, a group of women who stayed decided to join forces in order to compel change. The women created a questionnaire and discreetly surveyed their colleagues to find out whether they’d also faced sexual harassment and gender discrimination. The completed questionnaires ended up on the desk of Nike’s Chief Executive Officer, Mark Parker.
What happened next has been covered in the national news with headlines such as “Three more managers leave Nike as internal probe continues” and “4 more Nike executives are out amid inquiry into harassment allegations.” Among the male executives who departed the company was Trevor Edwards, president of the Nike brand and the top candidate to one day succeed Parker at the helm.
Nike has initiated a full review of its human resources operations and claims to have made substantial improvements its internal reporting process to prevent future abuses. Additionally, the company has implemented mandatory training for its management teams.
In the aftermath, the company has portrayed the issues identified in the questionnaires as anomalies. “It has pained me to hear that there are pockets of our company where behaviors inconsistent with our values have prevented some employees from feeling respected and doing their best work,” Mr. Parker said in a statement.
But the current and former employees who spoke with The New York Times described systemic issues. For example, company data shows that while about half its employees are women, 62% of directors and 71% of vice presidents are men. In fact, this inner circle of male leaders was so insular it became known as F.O.T. (standing for “Friends of Trevor,” in reference to Trevor Edwards).
Observers inside and outside the company are watching with keen interest to see how Nike proceeds. The human resources review, reporting improvements, and leadership training are all good starts. But if the company wants to truly make an impact, it’ll require fundamental cultural changes to restore trust and boost morale.