Nike CEO Vows Changes After Claims of Workplace Harassment and Bias

Posted May 6, 2018 12:23 a.m. EDT

The chief executive of Nike told employees that departures related to workplace behavior will be completed in the coming days, a move that sought to reassure a workforce jolted by allegations of misconduct and discrimination against women and gain closure on one of the most turbulent periods in the company’s history.

The comments by the executive, Mark Parker, at a companywide meeting Thursday, signaled Parker’s effort to end quickly the rumors and speculation of further managerial changes inside the world’s largest footwear and apparel company, which has already facilitated the departures or planned departures of six top male executives in recent weeks.

The New York Times obtained a recording of Parker’s 30-minute address to employees Friday. A company spokeswoman on Saturday provided a transcript of the speech.

Acknowledging that he and other top leaders at Nike had missed signs of discontent among some employees, Parker apologized to the workers gathered at the Tiger Woods Conference Center on Nike’s Beaverton, Oregon, campus, as well as others watching by video hookup. He added that the company would make changes to compensation and training programs.

“I apologize to the people on our team who were excluded, and I apologize if some of those same people felt they had no one to turn to,” Parker said. “I want everyone at Nike to know their voices do matter and your bravery is making us better.”

Parker’s measured and occasionally meandering comments solicited little audible reaction, other than a round of applause after he thanked everyone who came forward with complaints. He made sure to touch on iconic company figures, including the co-founders Bill Bowerman, the former University of Oregon track coach, and Phil Knight, as well as Jeff Johnson, who was among the first employees, and the revered early testing lab in New Hampshire.

Employees received an email Thursday morning inviting them to the meeting but were not told the subject matter, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Parker’s remarks followed weeks of agitation inside Nike. Earlier this year, a group of women began an informal survey that sought input about discrimination and sexual harassment at the company. It was presented to Parker on March 5, and ultimately led to an executive shake-up that included the announced departure of Trevor Edwards, the president of the Nike brand who was widely viewed as a potential successor to Parker, 62.

Parker’s address came five days after The New York Times, using interviews with more than 50 current and former Nike employees, reported how women had felt marginalized, harassed and stymied in their careers. Many said that when they went to human resources, their complaints seemed to not be taken seriously by the organization.

The spokeswoman confirmed that no other employees have left the company related to the broad complaints of workplace misconduct.

In his remarks Thursday, Parker reiterated that Nike is continuing to review its human resources processes with a goal toward improving the process “that underserved us in recent years,” and to “restore trust in places where it has eroded.”

Noting that the company has undertaken a major strategic transformation as it shifts to sell more of its goods directly to consumers through its own stores and website, Parker acknowledged, nonetheless, that he had missed something.

“While many of us feel like we were treated with respect at Nike, that wasn’t the case in all teams,” he said at the meeting, news of which was earlier reported by The Wall Street Journal. “And if all of our teammates don’t see the same opportunities, we just can’t accept that.”

Parker said while the main set of complaints that gave rise to Nike’s internal investigations have been acted on, many other complaints that have come in over the special hotline or email Nike set up in recent weeks, are still being addressed. “We are looking into every concern,” he added.

He told employees that not all disciplinary action is visible. Just because an employee is not terminated, that “does not necessarily mean they do not have consequences,” he said.

Through an all-employee survey conducted in March, Parker said the company is taking steps to make Nike a more collaborative workplace, where everyone’s voices are heard and everyone feels included. “Someone told me recently that they didn’t fit the Nike profile. That hurt to hear that, because I believe, and this is the way it should be, and maybe not the way it is in some places in the company, but there is no Nike profile,” Parker said. “There are many ways to succeed here.”

Parker said the company plans to be more open about its workforce representation and equal pay goals, starting with women and minorities. He also noted that programs are being started across the company, including training programs for future leaders, mentoring programs and unconscious bias training for all employees.

He also announced an upcoming change to Nike’s incentive compensation plan, which starting next fiscal year will be “awarded against one set of objectives, will be one plan, with one reward system.”

Reaction from Nike employees to Parker’s speech was mixed. Some said they felt hopeful that Parker’s promises and the departure of six top executives signaled that Nike leadership was serious about fixing problems. Others said they thought that his speech was frustratingly vague and did not specifically lay out how Nike’s culture would be improved. The people insisted on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the company.