Inappropriate Workplace Behavior, Sexual Harassment, Response to Abuse
*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?