Nike has "has failed to gain traction” in its ongoing effort to hire and promote women and minorities, according to CNBC, which reviewed a memo sent to Nike employees by Executive Vice President of Global Human Resources Monique Matheson.
"Yesterday, we shared updates on pay and for the first time representation data for women and people of color at the Vice President level," she said in comments emailed to Retail Dive. "These results demonstrate that we need to accelerate representation of women and people of color at leadership levels within the company."
The report comes amid turmoil in Nike’s top ranks, with the exit last month of two top executives, Trevor Edwards and Jayme Martin, over undisclosed allegations of inappropriate behavior.
CEO Mark Parker opened a conference call with analysts last month by addressing the Edwards and Martin departures, without providing specifics. As part of its growth strategy, the athletic-wear giant is wooing women and a diversity of global shoppers with a push for more footwear designs by and for women and with products like the Nike Pro Hijab for female Muslim athletes, and a culture of inclusion is important to the brand.
“Nike is dedicated to serving athletes and inspiring the world through the power of sport," Matheson said in her remarks. "As an employer we are committed to creating a culture where everyone can succeed and contribute to our success and we know diversity drives a culture of inclusion and empowerment.
Parker did tell analysts that the company is taking steps at the top to address the issue, and Matheson reiterated that in the comments sent to Retail Dive. "I'd first like to acknowledge the changes we made last week to further evolve our culture and restructure our leadership," Parker said, reminding investors that he plans to extend his own retirement beyond 2020.
Matheson said Wednesday the company is committed to taking the following steps:
- Hold our leaders accountable for representation growth within their teams
- Develop our diverse talent with new targeted training programs
- Invest in a dedicated diversity sourcing team and ensure we have diverse slates of candidates when hiring, create more inclusive job descriptions, enable a blind resume process, and eliminate the collection of candidate salary history; and
- Accelerate manager training ensuring that all Nike managers are clear on our expectations around culture and move more quickly on our goal to require all managers to go through Unconscious Bias training.
Those could help. The notion of Nike's culture is being challenged, not just by its executives' behavior, but also by the company's failure to meet its own goals in populating its workforce with a people from a variety of backgrounds. The problem is rampant in retail in general — turnover rates in business leadership positions are far higher for women (31%) than for men (24.1%), and that’s particularly true at retail and consumer goods companies, according to research from The Network of Executive Women. Attrition rates globally across other sectors are 8% to 10% annually.
As a result, the candidate pool for executive-level manager and C-suite positions at such companies is quite homogeneous — 83% white and 67% male, according to the research, which was conducted in partnership with Mercer and Accenture. Possible reasons cited are feelings of isolation in higher positions, lack of support, little clarity in paths to promotion and a problematic work/life balance.
Nike is likely working to change its culture quickly, and Parker's comments show that it's attempting to square reality with leaders' behavior, according to Mark Lipton, graduate professor of management at The New School and author of "Mean Men, The Perversion of America's Self-Made Man."
"The comment about Nike's commitment to 'inclusivity, respect and empowerment' clearly speaks volumes to the notion that each or all of these is currently being tested by behaviors from high-level individuals," he told Retail Dive in an email. "[These] are C-suite memes: code for what is perhaps ugly behavior that can ruin the cohesion and collaboration in a firm dependent on innovation and diversity of thought."
Having women and minorities in key roles is all-important, he also said, and that includes on the board. "Boards need to step up and take on a new role, of stewardship of culture," Lipton told Retail Dive in an interview earlier this year. "It's so related to performance. There's solid research, scholarship coming out of business schools, that the more gender diversity on boards the better, that it goes straight to the bottom line. To me it's 'case closed.'"