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Air Revolution: Women Force Culture Change at Nike

Topics: Current Events
Image Credit: Pexels / Rafael

A group of women at Nike’s headquarters secretly surveyed their female colleagues about the prevalence of gender discrimination and sexual harassment at the company. When they had completed their survey, they shared their findings with the CEO. Since then – as of May 8 – 11 top-level executives have been forced out, and a resultant cultural change has been promised.

Nike famously used the Beatles’ song “Revolution” in a TV commercial in 1987, much to Sir Paul McCartney’s chagrin.

In March of this year, the company experienced its own revolution, when a group of women challenged the reported misogynist corporate culture by taking their complaints – and the complaints of their colleagues – directly to the CEO after finding the human resources department largely ignored them.

According to multiple reports in The New York Times, women at Nike were often made to feel “marginalized in meetings and were passed over for promotions,” or worse. Some women reported sexual harassment and likened the corporate culture to that of a frat house.

Reported the Times:

“There were the staff outings that started at restaurants and ended at strip clubs. A supervisor who bragged about the condoms he carried in his backpack. A boss who tried to forcibly kiss a female subordinate, and another who referenced a staff member’s breasts in an email to her.”

Additionally, female employees reportedly, “grew tired of watching men get promoted into jobs ahead of women (they) felt were equally or better qualified.”

Again, according to the Times, some women noted the lack of female leadership at Nike, amid “an environment that favored male voices. Nike’s own research shows that women occupy nearly half the company’s work force but just 38 percent of positions of director or higher, and 29 percent of the vice presidents…”.

Female employees began sharing an anonymous survey internally in the summer of 2017, after the culture reached a breaking point and three female executives left the company.

“On March 5, the packet of completed questionnaires landed on the desk of Mark Parker, Nike’s chief executive. Over the next several weeks, at least six top male executives left or said they were planning to leave the company,” reported the Times.

Since then, another five top-executives have left Nike.

Nike’s #metoo Moment

Nike has since pledged to change is culture, and two women have been promoted to fill the roles left by executives who have departed because of the scandal. Additionally, Nike has appointed its first-ever  chief diversity and inclusion officer.

The company also said in an internal memo to staff earlier this month that Nike would look to promote more women and other minority employees to senior management roles at the company.

Sadly, sexual harassment and gender inequity in the workplace are not issues limited to Nike. According to PayScale’s report, The State of the Gender Pay Gap in 2018, in general:

“Over the course of their career, men move into higher level roles at significantly higher rates than women. By mid-career, men are 70 percent more likely to be in executive roles than women. By late career, men are 142 percent more likely to be in VP or C-suite roles.”

Learn more about gender inequity in PayScale’s report, The State of the Gender Pay Gap in 2018.


Have you experienced gender inequity or even sexual harassment at work? Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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