“There are certain pockets of the company where that jock kind of mentality kind of does exist,” says a former Nike designer. “And I guess it spills over into some of the corporate processes.”
That may be as good a description as any for the shakeup happening at Nike. So far this year, at least 11 executives, including senior leaders, have left the company after a New York Times exposé, an internal survey and an investigation revealed widespread allegations of discrimination and harassment against women.
According to the Times, the misconduct ranged from the systemic to the personal. Some women felt marginalized, passed over for promotions and excluded from key areas such as the basketball division. One boss tried to force a kiss from a subordinate. Another referred to a staff member’s breasts in an email. Staff outings ended at strip clubs.
When individual women complained to human resources, they were ignored or retaliated against. When the company was challenged, it attributed the problems to “an insular group of high-level managers” who “protected each other and looked the other way.”
On March 5, a set of questionnaires hit the desk of Nike’s CEO, Mark Parker. This set in motion a comprehensive review of human resources operations and internal reporting procedures, along with mandatory management training. It also started the wave of ousters and resignations.
So far, the departed include Nike’s former president, who was considered next in line for the CEO position. Also gone is the general manager of global categories, a vice president in footwear, a senior director of the basketball division and the head of diversity and inclusion. Interestingly, about half of the executives who left are people of color.
The shakeup has drawn criticism from Wall Street, but not as much as you might expect. The Times found analysts drawing a connection between the hostile work environment at Nike and its failure to perform with female customers. If Nike is to become a $50 billion company by 2020, its CEO says, it needs to see 60 percent growth in the women’s market.
It’s difficult to move forward with an insular group of high-level managers protecting one another. If Nike has succeeded in clearing them out, it will be interesting to see if they are replaced by a more diverse, professional group.
If you are suffering through a hostile work environment and are considering filing a complaint, we recommend discussing your situation with an employment law attorney. Doing so can help build a compelling argument and reduce the risk of retaliation.
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