Nike is publicly dismantling its toxic “boys club” culture

New rules are coming to Nike offices.
New rules are coming to Nike offices.
Image: Reuters/Grigory Dukor
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What started as a quiet internal problem at Nike has developed into a very public pledge by the world’s largest athletic brand to change its corporate culture.

The situation began with a surreptitious survey being circulated among Nike’s female employees that shed light on widespread concerns over unequal pay, promotions, and a toxic “boys club” culture (paywall) at the company. After the survey came to the attention of CEO Mark Parker, Nike quickly investigated, leading to the resignations of two of the company’s top executives—one of which was Trevor Edwards, widely seen as the likely successor to current CEO Mark Parker.

Now the company’s chief of human resources, Monique Matheson, says there will be changes to come in Nike’s efforts to ensure women and minorities are represented in top jobs.

“Today, we shared updates on pay and for the first time representation data for women and people of color at the Vice President level,” Matheson said in a statement. “These results demonstrate that we need to accelerate representation of women and people of color at leadership levels within the company.”

Nike has several hundred vice presidents, according to a source who spoke with the Wall Street Journal (paywall). In an internal memo to staff reviewed by the Journal and CNBC, Matheson revealed that just 29% of the company’s vice presidents are women, despite its overall global workforce being a roughly even split between women and men. In the US, only 16% of vice presidents are non-white, even though in 2016 most of its US workforce was non-white for the first time.

“While we’ve spoken about this many times, and tried different ways to achieve change, we have failed to gain traction—and our hiring and promotion decisions are not changing senior-level representation as quickly as we have wanted,” Matheson reportedly said in the memo.

Pay was at least more equitable. Globally, women earned $0.99 for every $1 men earned, while in the US there was no difference in pay between white and non-white employees. Matheson, however, did tell staff that Nike will implement doing additional analysis of pay in certain parts of the company, since they’ve heard from employees that the numbers don’t reflect their “personal” experiences.

CNBC, meanwhile, reports that men in Nike’s UK wholesale and retail divisions earned 10% and 3% more than women, respectively. Nike said having fewer women in senior-level positions, which pay better, caused the disparity.

Matheson has now publicly announced a clutch of corrective programs to address these issues, such as developing diverse talent, a blind resume process, more inclusive job descriptions, and eliminating collection of salary history during hiring. Managers at the company will also be held accountable for diversity within their teams, and Nike will “move more quickly” on its goal to ensure all managers go through “Unconscious Bias training.” (This training helps to eliminate the often-invisible preferences that develop for one group over another in a workforce.)

Nike appears to be well aware that it can’t sit back and hope the whole thing blows over. If it doesn’t get ahead of these diversity issues, it risks alienating the many female and non-white customers it counts on for sales.

This story is part of How We’ll Win, a project exploring the fight for gender equality at work. Read more stories here.