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Did Nike’s ‘Frat Boy Culture’ Lead to the Departures of Two Executives?

Nike execs Trevor Edwards and Jayme Martin “protected male subordinates who engaged in behavior that was demeaning to female colleagues.”

Photo: Getty Images

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Following a series of complaints regarding inappropriate workplace conduct, two Nike executives are leaving their positions at the sportswear giant, effective immediately.

Brand president Trevor Edwards is stepping down from Nike, but will remain as an advisor until August, while Nike vice president Jayme Martin was fired from the company, and is already gone, according to reports from The Wall Street Journal. Sources say both executives “protected male subordinates who engaged in behavior that was demeaning to female colleagues,” and bullied “women and individuals from foreign countries.”

Yesterday, in a memo obtained by the Journal, CEO Mark Parker told employees at the company that over the last few weeks, Nike has become “aware of reports occurring within our organization that do not reflect our core values of inclusivity, respect and empowerment at a time when we are accelerating our transition to the next stage of growth and advance of our culture.”

Parker also told employees that Nike was currently reviewing the company’s internal HR system, noting that “this has been a very difficult time,” according to the Journal.

An employee since 1992, Edwards was reportedly being considered to take over as CEO when Parker retires. Yesterday the company released a statement that Edwards will now retire from Nike in August, although sources tell ESPN that there was “no outward talk that the 55-year-old Edwards was ready to retire.” Martin, who reported to Edwards, has been with Nike since 1997, and most recently ran Nike’s business divisions of training, basketball, and its women’s business, according to the Journal. These departures have created a shuffle within the company: Parker is now staying on as CEO beyond 2020, and former Nike Geographies & Sales president Elliott Hill is assuming responsibilities as president of consumer and marketplace.

In his memo, Parker wrote that the situation at Nike “disturbs and saddens me.” He did not specify what exactly the complaints at Nike were about, or whether they involved Edwards or Martin personally. (Nike did not immediately respond to Racked for comment.)

The news of workplace misconduct isn’t all too surprising, though. Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, has plenty of complaints on Glassdoor, with several employees calling Nike a company with “frat boy culture.”

“Boys club, with frat- boy type bad behavior that is ignored by mgmt,” one Glassdoor user wrote.

“I have been told multiple times to ‘sit and keep my mouth shut’ during a meeting (Female typically in all male meetings),” another Glassdoor review reads, written by a Nike Beaverton employee who holds a director position. The employee also says Nike has a “lack of promotion of female leaders: Often excuse given is that a specific female acts too aggressive and therefore is passed over for promotion (this is when a male counter-part can say the exact same thing but been seen as a strong leader). I see this occur on a weekly basis.”

One current employee, who’s worked at Nike for eight years, wrote on Glassdoor two months ago that Nike has “disrespectful, ageist, sexist, entitled, pampered and selfish upper management.”

“TimesUp on the odious frat-boy culture, dudes,” the Nike employee writes. “Many women I talk to are super sick of the boys club atmosphere. Train managers of people to actually spend time managing ALL their people, in a professional, consistent, sincere way... I don’t really want to hear about how drunk you got last night or listen to your 45 minute color commentary on last night’s game when I am trying to get my work done.”

Another former Nike employee writes about the company’s “good ‘ol boy culture,” adding, “It’ll be the downfall.”

One Nike employee who works at Beaverton describes the headquarters as a “toxic environment where employee satisfaction is at an all time low. Political. Petty. Bureaucratic. 70-80 hour work weeks. Low Compensation.” The employee also says the headquarters has “Frat Boy Mentality.”

Other reviewers describe Nike’s headquarters as a place with “high school bullying.”

“If you are a white man, or even more specifically British, White and Bald, you will love it !!!” one review reads. “Be prepared for the culture. Jocks rule the school. Its not what you know its who you know.”

“All about who you know and being politically correct is most important, it’s hard to move up if you are not included in the social circle,” another employee writes. “Basically favoritism is insane.”

Nike is the world’s leading manufacturer of sportswear and shoes, with annual revenue of $34.4 billion as of 2017. Battling slumping sales in the US, Nike recently had mass layoffs and inked an official partnership with Amazon over the summer as it attempts to hit its goal of $50 billion by 2020.

Nike joins the avalanche of companies that have seen senior leadership exit amid work culture complaints — a response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal, as well as the #MeToo movement unmasking sexual harassment across the country. In February, Guess creative director Paul Marciano stepped down after being accused of on- and off-set harassment by model Kate Upton. Just last month, Lululemon CEO Laurent Potdevin resigned from his position at the Canadian fitness apparel company. As Racked reported, Potdevin was in a relationship with a designer at Lululemon, who received preferential treatment, as well as opportunities that were not commensurate with her role. Employees also told Racked Potdevin ran a “toxic boy’s club work culture.”

Like Nike, which isn’t specifying any problematic behavior that was complained about, Lululemon also tried to keep mum about Potdevin, merely telling Racked that there was a “range of instances where he demonstrated a lack of leadership and fell short of our standards of conduct.”

Both companies’ attempts at keeping senior leadership’s actions under wraps demonstrates a pattern of corporate privilege. Parker wrote in the staff memo that he is “determined to make the necessary changes so that our culture and our company can evolve and grow,” and according to ESPN, Nike now has a confidential phone number and email address employees can call if they “feel threatened.”

But can the company fix the problem without sharing the specific allegations, or taking accountability? Either way, given the speed the #MeToo movement has given to workplace scandals, it’s only a matter of time before the story of what’s going on at Nike comes out.

Have a tip about Nike? Email me at Chavie@Racked.com.

Update: March 16, 2018, 1:40 p.m.

This article has been updated throughout.