Career & Money

The Women of Nike Force Change

Dr. Anne Litwin
By Dr. Anne Litwin

The women of Nike, the sportswear company, got tired of their complaints to human resources about sexual harassment and discrimination falling on deaf ears. The women experienced retribution for filing complaints, and several high-level women left the company, sharing that they left because of frustration with the toxic company culture that they could not influence. So, the women of Nike took matters into their own hands—and the public saw another example of employees bringing about change that would not have happened otherwise.

More often than not, human resource managers told these women that they were wrong or that corrective action would be taken—but it never was.Julie Creswell, Kevin Draper, and Rachel Abrams, writing for the New York Times, report that after years of complaining to human resources and seeing no evidence of change or accountability for bad behavior within the company, a group of women decided to covertly survey their female peers, “inquiring whether they had been the victim of sexual harassment and gender discrimination.” Those who had a complaint or a story to tell completed a questionnaire, sharing shocking and frustrating anecdotes:

  • Explanations from several high-level women about why they had exited the company, including a pattern of watching men get promoted while equally or better qualified women were passed over.
  • A range of stories about demeaning behavior toward women, such as male superiors referring to women using a vulgar term for women’s genitals or being called a “stupid bitch” by a boss.
  • Stories of women being excluded from the inner circle of mostly male decision makers.
  • Examples of a culture belittling to women where male supervisors openly discussed their favorite strip clubs during work outings.
  • The story of a senior manager who mentioned a female employee’s breasts in an email to her.
  • The story of a manager who kept magazines on his desk with scantily clad women on the cover and bragged about his supply of condoms.

In most of the examples above, the women recounted going to human resources to file a complaint or ask for action to punish the offender. More often than not, human resource managers told these women that they were wrong or that corrective action would be taken—but it never was. In some cases, after a complaint was filed, the offender was promoted and the woman complaining was laid off.

Finally, when the package of completed questionnaires was put on the desk of the CEO by the women, things started to change. Several top male executives exited over the next few weeks, including the head of diversity and inclusion, and the exits are continuing. A major overhaul is taking place of the human resources processes and internal systems for reporting sexual harassment and discrimination.

Nike is a huge company, but huge companies can change quickly if the right kind of pressure is applied from within and made public. And clearly, without pressure change does not happen. Thanks to the women of Nike for taking the risk to tell their stories.

 

Photo courtesy of perzon seo (CC BY 2.0)

 


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Dr. Anne Litwin
Anne H. Litwin, Ph. D. Consultant, Coach, Trainer, and Author Dr. Anne Litwin has been a consultant, coach, and trainer for more than 30 years in a wide variety of organizations throughout the world, including Africa, China, Myanmar, Russia, Singapore,...Read More
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