Nike – How a Corporation is Addressing Issues of Abuse

Inappropriate Workplace Behavior, Sexual Harassment, Response to Abuse

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One of Nike’s Maxims. The * at the end is for Bill Bowerman’s quote, “If you have a body, you are an athlete.”

-by Kathi

*I received permission from leadership at Nike to speak publicly about recent events. The following is my opinion.

I started working in Human Resources (HR) at Nike two years ago. I am extremely grateful for my job and have found working at a corporation interesting. Given the #MeToo movement and recent events surrounding Bill Hybels and Paige Patterson, I thought it would be timely to provide insight on how a non-Christian company has addressed inappropriate bullying behavior and sexual harassment claims.

On March 15, 2018, CEO of Nike Mark Parker announced to employees that Vice President Trevor Edwards was resigning due to inappropriate work behavior. A hotline was set up for employees to report complaints with the company’s promise to look into each story. On April 28, 2018, The New York Times released, “At Nike, Revolt Lead by Women Leads to Exodus of Male Executives.” This article addressed how women at Nike experienced sexual harassment and marginalization within the company. Employees stated that when they reached out to HR for assistance little help was provided.

Word started spreading quickly about this article, and I remember a mixture of feelings after reading it. Given my understanding of systems, I was not surprised that something like this happened within a company this size. Yet, I felt sad and disappointed about what employees were experiencing and that they did not receive support from HR. I was also a bit confused because my area of HR has a strong female presence, so I had a sense that Nike supports and promotes women.

Shortly after the article was published, we had an all-hands global HR meeting. Leadership addressed the problems brought to light, we were told that it was being taken seriously, and steps to address issues were in place. There was a short time where tough questions were asked and answers were provided.

On May 3, 2018, CEO Mark Parker spoke at an all-employee meeting. As I listened, I had in the back of my mind how other churches and organizations have responded to claims of abuse. I was impressed with what I heard because it was a different response from other recent events. (Transcripts of the speech were provided to news outlets. Quotes below are my transcription from Mr. Parker’s speech.)

First, Mr. Parker acknowledged that there was a problem:

Through all of this change, we (and I) missed something. While many of us felt that we were treated with respect at Nike, that wasn’t the case on all teams.

With the size of our company it is normal, sadly, to have a workplace where concerns are raised every day and we are determined, I will say we are determined, to treat every single one of them seriously.

He also thanked and acknowledged the women who brought their stories of mistreatment to his attention:

It took incredible bravery for everyone to step up to make their voice heard. So, thank you for your courage. (followed by applause)

I apologize to the people on our team who were excluded. And I apologize that some of those same people felt they had no one to turn to. I want everyone at Nike to know that their voices do matter and your bravery is making us better. We will start with a process that protects people when they need support. We will be more intentional with how we get people to connect and share how they are feeling. Because those insights are critical. We want that transparency.

Mr. Parker then took responsibility for the problems:

I am responsible for all of Nike and it’s my job, supported by all of you, to help Nike be a place for everyone, both as an empowering place to work and as a brand for all athletes.

There are some who feel that everything is fine and they are taken care of while there are others who need more. Let’s be clear about why we are here. Success is more than just innovative products, emotional ads, or quarterly financial results. We have come to Nike to be a part of something bigger. To experience the joy and pride of working on a team that can transcend what we could never accomplish on our own. To do that we have an obligation, and this is non-negotiable, to create and cultivate an environment of inclusion and respect. And that starts with me.

While several top executives have been let go from the company,  Mr. Parker acknowledged that some will be staying on because he thought they had the potential to grow and change. And, just because they were staying did not mean that there were no consequences for their actions.

Finally, specific changes are being implemented, starting with mandatory training for approximately 10,000 managers worldwide. The hotline will remain in place and all employees raising issues would receive a response. HR processes will also be reviewed and restructured where needed to provide better support to employees.

Time will tell if Nike is working hard to make sure that their greatest asset – their employees – is taken care of. While I cannot provide the perspective of a victimized employee hearing Mr. Parker’s message, I certainly hope that the ongoing changes help to reinforce a workplace culture where all feel valued and appreciated. I do hope that those who have been victimized feel that the company is listening and supporting. If leadership remains open to hearing from their employees and is transparent then trust can be rebuilt.

Imagine if leaders at Willow Creek or within the SBC initially responded to their issues with acknowledging the problem, acknowledging victims, taking responsibility for the problem, and  making effective changes. Why is it that a corporation like Nike “gets it” but religious organizations don’t when it comes to addressing abusive behaviors?

16 comments on “Nike – How a Corporation is Addressing Issues of Abuse

  1. An observation about this comment in the OP (original post) before I resume reading the rest of it:

    Employees stated that when they reached out to HR for assistance little help was provided.

    The dynamics between child- on- child bullying at schools, adult- on- adult bullying in workplaces, and domestic violence are all quite similar.

    I was harassed quite badly (by a woman boss) at one full time, professional position I held.
    I had no idea how to cope with the situation, so I began reading many books and online articles about workplace bullying.

    I learned from reading such material that going to Human Resources Departments is almost always a bad idea and a waste of time, because H.R. Depts exist to protect and defend the employer from lawsuits and the like.

    Meaning, if you are being bullied or sexually harassed by a co-worker or boss, and you go to file a complaint with your HR, the HR dept. will circle the wagons around your abuser and start portraying YOU as the “problem” because they want to have grounds to fire you before you can create more problems for the company.

    -And tell me if that also does not sound similar to how most American churches handle cases brought to them about sexual harassment or child abuse or domestic violence! The churches will protect the abuser and the victim becomes a scape-goat. (Same with school bullying, too.)

    As far as churches go, as I just said _<a href="https://spiritualsoundingboard.com/2018/05/15/discuss-what-can-men-do-to-help-remove-misogyny-from-the-church-inquiring-elder-wants-to-know/comment-page-5/#comment-392074"in a post here on SSB in another thread_,

    Gender complementarianism (absolute male rule of women) has been the status quo in most Christian churches for hundreds of years now, and it has not stopped sexism by Christians, nor has it protected girls and women.

    On the contrary, complementarianism feeds into the abuse or marginalization of girls and women.

    Complementarianism is not a solution to abuse or sexism in Christianity; it remains part of the problem.

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  2. I appreciate how they did this, but Nike has their work cut out for them. For that matter, so do a LOT of companies. I’ve been in a couple of jobs where I was peripherally choosing materials my company would buy, close enough to see that those doing the actual recommendations were getting invitations to go to strip clubs.

    We are not talking about steel mills where the management is all 55 and up and remembers the good old days when the walls were decorated with Farrah Fawcett and the Ridgid calendar; we are talking Silicon Valley companies. The operative mentality among those going was also not patriarchy or complementarian theology, but rather simple entitlement. The articles get it right by calling it a “frat boy” mentality, IMO.

    Daisy illustrates a big part of the problem with her comments on HR: it’s worth noting that John Manly (attorney for the victims of Larry Nassar and others) retweeted a comment more or less meaning that reporting things via Title IX tends to send things to the circular file/oblivion. Getting past organizations’ tendency to circle the wagons takes some doing, and kudos to the ladies at Nike for figuring out how to get it done in such a way that even the most oblivious of people would need to pay attention.

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  3. Which is interesting because I’ve had mandatory harassment training ever since (apparently) some court decision that held a corporation civilly liable for workplace harassment even though the manager and HR were never contacted.

    It seemed to me at that point that HR and management were pretty interested in avoiding lawsuits by first training employees what was okay and what was not (through melodramatic videos) and then by taking accusations seriously, but apparently not.

    Speaking of strip clubs, there was a similar situation in the insurance industry where a company brought in their top sales performers to a seminar. During the seminar, they hired women who wore color-coded wrist bands to indicate what “services” they offered to the attendees. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/insurance/8524688/Insurance-giant-Munich-Re-admits-it-used-prostitutes-to-reward-staff.html

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  4. A church or business / place of work can have whatever rules they like, and they can claim to be opposed to sexual harassment and bullying, but (and even as the books I read by experts on all this note), such gestures or claims are taken as jokes by the abusers and bullies, when HR Depts or bosses do not put negative consequences into place.

    If the abusers and bullies are never demoted, fired, or taken to task in whatever way, they KNOW all the talk about equality and fairness from the higher-ups or in employer policy handbooks is just a lot of meaningless rhetoric.

    They know the reality is they can abuse and harass to their heart’s content and get away with it.

    People who are prone to bullying or harassment have to KNOW and SEE that they will face trouble when or if they do bully or harass.

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  5. “Why is it that a corporation like Nike “gets it” but religious organizations don’t when it comes to addressing abusive behaviours?”

    I don’t know but it makes me angry, because in both my ex-church and my ‘christian’ ex-workplace, I witnessed bullying and abuse being enabled, and the victims being vilified and ultimately driven out. There are very good reasons why christianity has such little credibility with the watching “world”.

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  6. I hope I conveyed well enough the stark difference in response that I have witnessed by Nike addressing issues of abuse versus what we have seen recently by churches. Leadership has not blamed victims but has continually expressed that they are thankful that victims came forward. They are making proactive moves to make changes.

    Since my background is in social work and advocacy I am new to the HR world. I have always though it should be designed to support the employee as well as apply business policies. I have heard many stories of people who go to their business HR and find little assistance. I do think that Nike is moving in the right direction. Yes, they have a far road ahead, but if they maintain this direction I think they can develop a workplace culture that reflects the values they hold on to.

    It is my hope that anyone who experiences abuse feels listened to, supported, and that their stories are taken seriously.

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  7. Kathi,

    Thank you for sharing. This was really encouraging to see them taking responsibility for providing a safe workplace to employees. I’m sure you’ll keep that HR department on the right track. 🙂

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  8. Since my background is in social work and advocacy I am new to the HR world. I have always though it should be designed to support the employee as well as apply business policies. I have heard many stories of people who go to their business HR and find little assistance.

    HR works for the company, and deals with the employees. It is true that they tend to protect the company, but that doesn’t necessarily mean protecting an offending employee. It can mean that, at times, but it doesn’t have to.

    In the case of sexual harassment, I think the key generally speaking is making sure it is more important to the company that employees not be harassed, whether it is because of bad pr, bad employee productivity, or lawsuits. Some companies take a moral stance regardless, and that is commendable.

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  9. Lea – I can say that Nike’s focus in HR is on employee experience. Yes, we need to follow business policy and procedure, but there is constant review of processes and policies. In our case, the “serve athletes” in the above picture means “serve employees.”

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  10. Kathi, way off topic, but if you can persuade someone at Nike to bring back the American Eagle racing flat I enjoyed when I was a kid……:^) Seriously, I wish Nike well, as their products have been a huge blessing to me, and they are a big blessing to my daughters, too.

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  11. Bike Bubba — I’ll see what I can do! 🙂

    My love with Nike started when I played basketball in high school. It was the first year Air Jordan came out and I wanted a pair so badly. I never got them. My favorites are the Pegasus because it’s always been the shoe that’s fit me the best. But I love the look of the Cortez. I recently got a pair of low Blazers and I love them too.

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  12. I last bought a pair of running shoes in the 80’s, but they were Nike Pegasus. Given my narrow heel and wide toes, I might have preferred an Asics Tiger shape, but I loved the feel when I ran in them, eg bounce, spring.

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  13. @Kathi

    I have always though it should be designed to support the employee as well as apply business policies.

    Nope. That’s why they call it “Human RESOURCES”. Employees are resources, like chairs, pencils, computers, widgets, etc. Pardon my cynicism and overexposure to Dilbert, which I have sadly found accurately portrays the software engineering / IT world. The devilish Catbert is more accurate than you realize. But I’m glad you are one of the HR folks who cares. They do exist. But you will find over time that you are just a glorified secretary/defense lawyer for the execs. If it’s cheap and easy, they’ll take care of an employee nice, like getting them an ergonomic keyboard so they don’t end up getting slapped with a work-related injury lawsuit for carpal tunnel. Other than that, worker bees learn not to be a problem and keep their heads down.

    As an aside, last year I was being harassed by a younger coworker who started engaging in creepy, boundary-testing behavior that finally culminated in touching my knee with a quick tap. I emailed him, detailing all the creepy behavior in writing and letting him know I wanted it to stop. Fortunately for me, he replied in writing with an apology and admitted that he knew what he was doing in wrong. The reason I say “fortunately”, is because he ramped up again, slowly but surely, and I had to go to my manager about it. If I hadn’t had his email reply as proof, would I have been supported? And I only managed to get him moved to another cubicle away from mine. At least he left me alone after that (and eventually quit on his own to work at another company). I was terrified that I would be viewed as “the problem”, and not him, so I didn’t dare voice my concern that I still had to work with him. And even if he got fired, would I have been safe? What if he retaliated by slashing my tires or far worse? I was checking my rear-view mirror on the way home for WEEKS after reporting him as it was.

    It’s no fun being in that position. It’s really a lose-lose situation.

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  14. @Daisy,

    Yeah, I have had my fair share of office bullying. I didn’t know what it was until years later. I had a “mentor” / technical directory have me work free overtime to get things done by an arbitrary deadline he had set, review it, say it was okay, and then randomly scrap all I had done because an employee (a young contractor) we’d hired for the team told him he wanted to design it another way. And that other way was something my mentor told me explicitly not to do, because he didn’t understand that way. He was trying to get a rise out of me, make be cry, whatever. And he’d laugh at me for it.

    I also came to realize that the above example was purposely done to pit employees on the same team against each other. He’d have us competing for his praise like it was his own personal spinoff of Survivor: Office Edition. One employee was always chosen to be the “scapegoat”, and another would be the golden child. Most of the time, I was the scapegoat, no matter what I did. For a short time, I managed to avoid being the scapegoat, and the targeting reticule fell on our young contractor. Ironically, because his design decision didn’t entirely work out (nobody could even understand his design, including the technical director himself who approved it), and his code was so scary that nobody else could debug it. So when his code didn’t work, and management wanted answers as to when it would all be done, he got blamed.

    In retrospect, I feel really bad for joining in on the blame. Had I understood the dynamics better, I would have tried to help the poor guy. All he needed was a strong mentor to guide him a bit and teach him communication skills and better modular design so he didn’t end up with spaghetti code. He ended up getting fired. That was largely his fault, because he was about to download classified data off a server to a USB stick out of spite and got caught. But I feel bad that we drove him to such spite in the first place. We had started off on friendly terms. Without the office bullying and deliberate chaos our boss made, I think we could have stayed on friendly terms.

    It turns out the bullying wasn’t all in my head, either. Another employee whom absolutely everybody liked was bullied by this technical director. He normally never cusses, so when we were talking about it many years ago, he not so nicely referred to the technical director as, um, illegitimate. With a red face, to boot! I don’t know what our technical director did to him, but it had to be pretty bad.

    Anyway, my manager back then would not do anything about the bullying. I didn’t have a term for it back then, but there was another employee who for the most part was the technical director’s golden child. I described the dynamic, and how I basically felt blamed for everything when the golden child employee could do anything, and she basically told me to have a thicker skin. Yeah, thanks for nothing.

    I only managed to escape the bullying by applying to a different department. I remember everyone on the old team telling me how the overtime at that department was so awful because of the crazy schedule, and they thought I was crazy to apply. Well, I got hired there, and I was so happy, in spite of the insane schedule and long hours. I wasn’t being bullied anymore. Everyone was NICE. There weren’t golden children or scapegoats. Just everyone take responsibility and get things done, everyone’s in this together sort of attitude. The people on my old team just couldn’t get why I was actually happy working longer hours. It did take me a few years to get out of Survivor: Office Edition mode, though.

    Why didn’t I go to HR? Because everyone knows that you’ll be “the problem” if you go to them. My own manager would do nothing, so why would HR? And with what proof? I would have had to realize how widespread the bullying was in the first place in order to gain allies to go as a group. I didn’t realize I wasn’t the only scapegoat. If I had, maybe things could have turned out differently. But we were too busy competing to see that the technical director was pitting us against each other for his own personal amusement. God knows what that toxic environment did to productivity. And yes, the bully still works here. I run into him into the hallway every now and then. I never want to work anywhere near him again, and fortunately in all these years I’ve never had to. But if it ever comes to it, I think I’ll know how to handle him better, because now I know his game. While he plays Survivor: Office Edition, I’ll be playing Fear Factor. Muhahahaha.

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  15. Clockwork Angel – I’m sorry to hear about your experience. There’s nothing worse then being in a place that is stressful. When your job is a stressful environment then all other areas of your life are affected.

    Your Fear Factor: Office Edition made me chuckle!

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  16. Loved all the comments from everyone. Very informative. Sad to see that I’m not the only one who has been bullied. Let me just tell you all this. If those of your own household will not stick up for you, what do we expect from organizations?

    I say this because when I was 14 years old, my parents sent me to live with an aunt (in Italy) because I was supposedly acting rebellious. Her daughter (my cousin) mercilessly shamed, humiliated, harassed, and bullied me, but my complaints back home were disregarded. I was even told in a phone conversation that “I just had to get along with her.”

    From what I’ve read, even one of Larry Nassar’s victim’s reporting of the abuse to her father was initially disbelieved (the dad later allegedly committed suicide when he realized the truth about his “friend,” Dr. Nassar).

    I guess it is just very difficult for people with vested interests to address issues because it is so much easier for them to blame the victim and continue with business as usual. It takes work to eradicate evil, and people are either lazy, uncaring, greedy, or partial.

    In my case, I now realize that my parents just thought I was too much work and didn’t want to handle me (but, in reality, I was a good, albeit misunderstood, teen, whom they had neglected all their lives). Boarding school was too expensive, and they didn’t want the stigma of abandoning me to the care of Social Services (that would make them look bad). So the solution was to dump me in a foreign country where I didn’t even know the language or these relatives and tell everyone that I was “studying abroad.”

    All of my complaints and concerns were brushed off, minimized, and ignored (as well as my repeated attempts to return home). Finally, after 3 years of horror, I left a note and ran away. I was picked up and returned back to my aunt, but, my aunt, in her quest to locate me, had contacted the daughter of her (and my father’s) brother. This other cousin of mine was much older and worked as a schoolteacher. She interpreted my note as suicidal in nature and called my father and told him in uncertain terms that I needed to return home.

    But my parents NEVER admitted that what they did was wrong. NEVER emphasized; NEVER expressed sorrow. My dad continued communication with these relatives (the aunt was mean, too, and I told my dad about it), but NOTHING. Never mind that my life was destroyed.

    I would refuse to come to the phone when either the aunt or cousin were on the line because of the tremendous fear that I had of them, but I am the one who got chastised. I was the bitter one. I was the hard one. I was the one holding a grudge. I was the one who was not “forgiving.”

    Well, money does talk. Glad to see that Nike is taking a stand against this illegal practice of sexual harassment (of course, they stand to lose a lot of $$$, if they fail to address the complaints). Hope the Catholic Church has finally learned after a myriad of diocese bankruptcies that covering up for abuse and harassment doesn’t pay.

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