At Nike, Revolt Led by Women Leads to Exodus of Male Executives

Others who’ve departed embody the top of range and inclusion, a vice chairman in footwear and a senior director for Nike’s basketball division.

It is a humbling setback for a corporation that’s well-known worldwide and has constructed its model across the inspirational slogan “Just Do It.” While the #MeToo motion has led to the downfall of particular person males, the sort of sweeping overhaul that’s occurring at Nike is uncommon within the company world, and illustrates how inner strain from workers is forcing even big firms to shortly handle office issues.

As ladies — and males — proceed to come ahead with complaints, Nike has begun a complete evaluate of its human sources operations, making administration coaching necessary and revising many of its inner reporting procedures.

While the departure of high executives has been coated in information accounts, new reporting by The New York Times, together with interviews with greater than 50 present and former workers, offers essentially the most thorough account but of how disaffection amongst ladies festered and left them feeling ignored, harassed and stymied of their careers. The Times additionally considered copies of three complaints to human sources.

“I came to the realization that I, as a female, would not grow in that company,” stated Francesca Krane, who labored for 5 years in Nike’s retail model design space earlier than leaving in 2016. She stated she grew drained of watching males get promoted into jobs forward of ladies she felt had been equally or higher certified.

Many of these interviewed, throughout a number of divisions, additionally described a office setting that was demeaning to ladies. Three individuals, as an illustration, stated they recalled occasions when male superiors referred to individuals utilizing a vulgar time period for girls’s genitals. Another worker stated that her boss threw his automotive keys at her and known as her a “stupid bitch.” She reported the incident to human sources. (She informed her sister about it on the time, the sister confirmed.) He continued to be her supervisor.

Most of the individuals who spoke to The Times insisted on anonymity, citing nondisclosure agreements or a concern of being ostracized within the business, or within the Portland group, the place Nike wields outsize affect. Some have spouses or relations nonetheless working there.

In response to questions, Nike portrayed its issues as being confined to “an insular group of high-level managers” who “protected each other and looked the other way.”

“That is not something we are going to tolerate,” stated a spokesman, KeJuan Wilkins.

In a press release, Mr. Parker stated the overwhelming majority of Nike’s workers work laborious to encourage and serve athletes all through the world. “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,” he stated.

For Amanda Shebiel, who left Nike in September after about 5 years on the firm, the promise to handle longstanding systemic issues is welcome, however late.

“Why did it take an anonymous survey to make change?” she requested. “Many of my peers and I reported incidences and a culture that were uncomfortable, disturbing, threatening, unfair, gender-biased and sexist — hoping that something would change that would make us believe in Nike again.”

“No one went just to complain,” Ms. Shebiel added. “We went to make it better.”


From left, Trevor Edwards, Nike’s former president; Jayme Martin, Mr. Edwards’s lieutenant, who oversaw a lot of Nike’s international enterprise; and Mark Parker, the corporate’s chief government.

From left, Johannes Simon/Getty Images; LinkedIn; Mike Lawrie, by way of Getty Images

An Inner Circle of Men

With a market worth of about $112 billion and annual revenues of round $36 billion, Nike is a worldwide behemoth within the athletic market, the place its dominance went largely unchallenged for a number of a long time.

But the corporate is going through vital enterprise hurdles. Adidas, one of its largest rivals, has gained floor in key markets like attire and footwear. Nike can also be struggling to get traction in ladies’s classes, the fastest-growing phase of the market.

Some of these interviewed by The Times stated the weak spot in ladies’s merchandise partly mirrored a scarcity of feminine management and an setting that favored male voices. Nike’s personal analysis reveals that girls occupy practically half the corporate’s work power however simply 38 % of positions of director or greater, and 29 % of the vice presidents, in accordance to an April four inner memo obtained by The Times.

And whereas Nike executives have informed traders that the ladies’s class was a vital half of its income development technique, former workers stated it was not given the finances it wanted to roll out the subtle advertising campaigns that had been the hallmark of conventional males’s sports activities, like basketball.

When Nike did put cash behind campaigns concentrating on ladies, it typically flailed.

Last yr, Mr. Edwards, the previous president, gave the inexperienced mild for a advertising marketing campaign for the autumn launch of the VaporMax shoe for girls; the feminine British singer FKA Twigs was given inventive license for a shoot in Mexico City. The consequence, in accordance to an individual who noticed a tough minimize of the business and one other who noticed the ultimate minimize, featured few pictures of the footwear and as a substitute had a lady twirling on what seemed like a stripper pole and male athletes in sports activities bras placing odd poses. The marketing campaign was killed, costing Nike hundreds of thousands of .

Asked in regards to the aborted marketing campaign, Mr. Wilkins of Nike stated the corporate was proud of its relationship with the singer. “We have a history of pushing the boundaries in marketing, just as we do in product development,” Mr. Wilkins stated. “We create lots of materials that isn’t deployed within the market.’’

Nike forcefully disputed the notion that girls weren’t concerned within the inventive and advertising operations, noting feminine government leads its ladies’s division. But Mr. Wilkins, the spokesman, acknowledged that, in areas like basketball, “there was extra room and alternative for the corporate to improve feminine illustration in its senior positions.”

While ladies struggled to attain high positions at Nike, an interior circle of largely male leaders emerged who had a direct line to Mr. Edwards. Within the corporate, as reported earlier in The Wall Street Journal, this group was referred to as F.O.T., or Friends of Trevor. They texted him in conferences or bragged about having lunch or dinner with him.

A charismatic and artistic advertising power, the London-born Mr. Edwards joined Nike in 1992. He oversaw advertising in Europe within the late 1990s, earlier than transferring to the United States and taking on the model in 2002. In 2013, he grew to become Nike model president.


A Nike government whom Paige Azavedo and different ladies reported to human sources for berating them in entrance of their friends was promoted final yr. This month, he was among the many departures.

Kyle Johnson for The New York Times

Paige Azavedo recollects her first assembly in 2014 along with her new boss, Daniel Tawiah, then a senior director for Nike’s digital model in North America. She anticipated they’d talk about digital advertising plans.

Instead, she was stunned when he talked largely about himself and the way Mr. Edwards had nominated him for a fast-track profession program. “He basically said, I’ve been nominated to be in this V.P. program and that’s going to be my goal for the next six months to a year,” stated Ms. Azavedo, who left Nike in 2015. “He made it clear he was a friend of Trevor.”

Multiple ladies, together with Ms. Azavedo, informed The Times they reported Mr. Tawiah to human sources for berating them in entrance of their friends, typically to the purpose of tears. He was promoted to vice chairman final yr. This month, he was amongst those that abruptly departed.

Reached by phone, Mr. Tawiah declined to remark. Mr. Wilkins declined to touch upon the complaints in opposition to Mr. Tawiah or his departure.

Mr. Edwards, who resigned in March however is advising Mr. Parker till he retires in August, didn’t reply to an electronic mail or a message left on his LinkedIn profile. A consultant for Mr. Martin declined to remark.

As males superior extra shortly into key roles in merchandising, design and advertising, a quantity of high-ranking ladies started to depart the corporate.

Among the primary to depart, within the spring of 2017, was Patty Ross, a vice chairman of office design and connectivity who had began working at Nike when she was 16. She had additionally based a ladies’s mentoring community inside Nike.

She was adopted by Kerri Hoyt-Pack, a 15-year veteran of the corporate who had helped launch the Nike ladies’s model. Then got here Nikki Neuburger, a vice chairman in international model advertising for working, who was a driving power behind the Nike+ app.

Ms. Ross declined to remark for this text. Ms. Hoyt-Pack and Ms. Neuburger didn’t reply to messages searching for remark.

When Ms. Neuburger left, she despatched a pointed letter to Mr. Parker in addition to different members of her crew, laying out the explanations for her departure. They coated acquainted themes, stated one one who stated she was learn the letter: harassment, and the exclusion of ladies from the interior circle of choice makers.

“Nikki did write a letter,” Mr. Wilkins stated. “It was thoughtful and professional. Mark took the letter very seriously and did meet with Nikki.”

Concerned about these departures, a bunch of ladies inside Nike began the behind-the-scenes survey that finally ended up on Mr. Parker’s desk.


Banners exterior the headquarters of Nike. While the #MeToo motion has led to the downfall of particular person males, the sort of sweeping overhaul that’s occurring at Nike is uncommon within the company world.

Natalie Behring/Getty Images

‘I Was Looking for Help’

The obstacles to development for girls at Nike usually are not new and, in some ways, widespread in firms with male-dominated management. Since Nike’s early days within the 1960s, many workers have been guided by a easy ethos: work laborious, get together laborious, stand up in your five-mile run within the morning.

The tradition that developed might be belittling to ladies. On the way in which to a piece dinner in Los Angeles, two senior males debated whether or not Los Angeles or Portland had higher strip golf equipment, in accordance to an individual who attended, as the ladies touring with them within the van stared out the home windows.

One present worker stated a supervisor pushed his method into a rest room and tried to kiss her, in accordance to a duplicate of her criticism that was considered by The Times.

Over time, many ladies developed a deep skepticism of Nike’s human sources companies. Some averted the division altogether, fearing retribution or satisfied that nothing would occur. Those who did search assist stated they usually got here away annoyed.

“I was looking for help and they just totally shut it down, like ‘You’re the problem,’” stated Marie Yates, a former retail designer, who stated she went to human sources searching for assist with points she was having with a supervisor. She left the corporate in 2016.

A senior supervisor who talked about a feminine worker’s breasts in an electronic mail was not terminated, however fairly given a verbal warning, in accordance to a former workers member within the human sources division.

In one criticism reviewed by The Times, a lady described her supervisor bragging in regards to the condoms he all the time carried and the magazines he stored on his desk with scantily clad ladies on the covers, regardless of being informed to take away them. She reported him to human sources, and was informed she had made a mistake by not confronting him first, she stated.

Until final yr, human sources was run by David Ayre, who was employed in 2007 by Nike from PepsiCo and reported immediately to Mr. Parker.

Mr. Ayre didn’t return cellphone and electronic mail messages searching for remark.

Complaints had been typically dealt with casually. The worker whose supervisor tried to kiss her within the rest room arrange a gathering with human sources to talk about it, and was bowled over when she was informed to meet her consultant within the Mia Hamm cafe — a public house on Nike’s sprawling campus.

Amber Amin stated her supervisor routinely belittled her with sexist and dismissive feedback however nonetheless frightened about what would occur if she reported him.

“I think his general attitude toward women was just, subtly, that we were less capable,” stated Ms. Amin, a junior designer on one of the Nike apps, who added that she had obtained constructive efficiency opinions since changing into an worker in 2014.

She finally sought assist from human sources, which informed her that corrective motion can be taken. Two days later, she was half of a spherical of layoffs.

Mr. Wilkins stated Nike has a no-retribution coverage that it takes severely and famous that there was a major reorganization of the work power final yr.

The callousness that some ladies skilled prolonged at occasions to the work power at massive, workers stated. By the summer season of 2016, as an illustration, Nike had determined to cease making golf balls, golf golf equipment and different gear. Members of the division had been summoned to a gathering contained in the Clubhouse, the nickname for one of Nike’s buildings.

There, horrified workers watched their names seem on a big display, directing them to totally different rooms, the place some can be laid off, in accordance to one one who attended the assembly and two individuals who had been informed of it. The individual stated it left workers with the impression they had been being let go by way of PowerPoint presentation.

Asked about these layoffs, Mr. Wilkins stated, “That’s absolutely not normal practice for us,” and steered the scenario was extra nuanced than it appeared. In layoff conditions, he stated, “we make great efforts to treat every employee in a very thoughtful manner.”

Regarding complaints to human sources, Mr. Wilkins stated: “We’re not going to comment on individual cases, but cases are often more complicated than simply listening to one side of the story.”

While Nike believes it has a set of human sources procedures put in, these techniques “have not worked consistently,” Mr. Wilkins stated. “As Mark has said, we are currently reviewing and improving our practices to re-establish trust where it has been lacking and to guard against this happening in the future.”


In ladies’s merchandise, Nike “is growing in the low single digits, which means it is a long way away from where it wants to be,” stated Matt Powell, a sports activities business analyst on the NPD Group.

Kyle Johnson for The New York Times

Pressure on Chief Executive

Nike’s targets would have been laborious to obtain even earlier than the latest departure of high-level executives. In October 2015, Mr. Parker introduced an formidable goal: By 2020, Nike would attain $50 billion in annual revenues. But final fall the corporate pushed the goal date to 2022.

And whereas Nike’s inventory has climbed 25 % prior to now yr, its revenues for the primary 9 months of its present fiscal yr grew by solely four %, with North American gross sales dipping in essential areas, like footwear.

In ladies’s merchandise, Nike “is growing in the low single digits, which means it is a long way away from where it wants to be,” stated Matt Powell, a sports activities business analyst on the NPD Group. Companies like Lululemon and even Old Navy are discovering higher success within the ladies’s sportswear market, Mr. Powell stated.

For now, Mr. Edwards’s duties have been break up between two different executives. Nike just lately named a lady, Kellie Leonard, as chief range and inclusion officer, and Mr. Wilkins stated Nike is concentrated “on attracting, growing and elevating each ladies and folks of coloration all through the group.’’

It now falls to Mr. Parker, 62, to transfer Nike ahead. A quiet government who designed a number of of Nike’s trainers, Mr. Parker has been the corporate’s chief government since 2006. He appeared to solidify his management over the corporate’s operations round 2015 when Nike’s co-founder Phil Knight stepped down as firm chairman.

But given the latest tumult at Nike, Mr. Parker might face robust questions himself. At least a dozen present and former workers informed The Times they may not see how Mr. Parker was not conscious of the issues together with his high leaders. What is unclear, some stated, is whether or not data was intentionally stored from Mr. Parker.

As he did with different executives who reported immediately to him, Mr. Parker met commonly with Mr. Ayre when he was the top of human sources to talk about, amongst different issues, any lively investigations of suspected worker misconduct, Mr. Wilkins stated.

When applicable, he stated, motion was taken. But with 74,000 workers, Mr. Wilkins stated, “Mark would not have been aware of all issues.”

That clarification didn’t fulfill Ms. Shebiel, the previous worker who left in September.

If Mr. Parker didn’t know, she stated, “it negates the times over the years my peers and I sought support and counsel from the people we were told we could trust to bring about change.”

Ms. Shebiel stated she and her colleagues risked or skilled retaliation “for shining a light on both significant and everyday experiences that left us feeling bullied, uncomfortable and intimidated.”

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