Nike will stop penalizing its female athletes for getting pregnant

About time.
About time.
Image: Kirby Lee/Reuters/USA TODAY
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Shoe giant Nike is reportedly reworking its sponsorship policies for female athletes, with contract language that protects their pay if they get pregnant. The move, reported by The Wall Street Journal, follows a recent video op-ed in the New York Times by one of Nike’s former sponsored runners, Alysia Montaño, who criticized the company and several of its competitors for penalizing women for getting pregnant.

Nike’s endorsement contracts currently give the company the right to reduce or pause pay for runners who fail to meet performance guidelines. As the May 12 piece in the Times noted, there are no exceptions carved out for cases of childbirth, pregnancy, or maternity.

Montaño said in the video that when she told Nike she wanted to have a baby at some point in her career, the company told the Olympian and US national champion that it would pause her contract and not pay her during her pregnancy. Montaño, who trained and even raced while pregnant, moved her endorsement deal to Asics, which also threatened to end her contract, following the birth of her child.

After Montaño spoke out, other former and current Nike-sponsored athletes, including Olympians Jo Pavey and Kara Goucher, said in separate comments to press that the athletic apparel company had halted their sponsorship payments while they were pregnant. The athletes’ comments were followed by a number of Nike competitors, including Brooks and Burton, reinforcing their support for their sponsored female athletes who want to get pregnant.

Nike, which did not respond to Quartz’s request for comment, told the WSJ that it won’t change existing contracts, but that it will “provide appropriate assurances for existing contracts to reinforce our policy.”

The sneaker giant, like many athletic apparel companies, heavily promotes gender and racial equality in its advertising campaigns. It has been praised recently for an ad highlighting women from childhood to motherhood, and for another on Mother’s Day advocating for gender equity. As the industry leader, if Nike chooses to contractually support pregnancy and post-partum recovery, it’s a promising sign that more of the industry might follow.