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Nike Is Trying to Be Less of a Boys’ Club

The company is promoting women to high-level positions, and it says this is just the beginning.

Photo: Pablo Cuadra/Getty Images

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Over the past two months, trouble at Nike’s corporate headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, has been bubbling to the surface. Six male executives have exited the company as a result of an ongoing internal investigation into Nike’s corporate environment, which employees described as a “frat boy culture.”

And this past weekend, the New York Times ran a damning exposé about how women at Nike covertly investigated sexual harassment and gender discrimination at the company, since incidents were rampant and yet overlooked by Nike’s human resources department.

Now Nike is forced to reckon with all the havoc raging, and is apparently trying to be less of a boys’ club. First up? Promoting women.

Yesterday, the company announced it will replace Nike vice president Jayme Martin, who was let go back in March, with Amy Montagne, a 13-year Nike veteran. Montagne was Nike’s vice president and general manager of global merchandising, and she previously held positions at Walmart and Gap. Martin was reportedly let go from Nike because he “protected male subordinates who engaged in behavior that was demeaning to female colleagues.” Montagne’s promotion is pivotal; as the Portland Business Journal reported, all category general managers at the company will now report to her.

“Amy is a proven leader with deep experience in driving successful strategies across our organization,” Michael Spillane, Nike’s president of categories and product, said in a statement emailed to Racked. “In her new role, we believe she is the right leader to drive Nike’s Category Offense.”

Montagne is the second woman Nike recently promoted. Last week, PBJ confirmed that Nike was also moving Kellie Leonard, its VP of global corporate communications of 15 years, to a position as chief of diversity and inclusion — a new role for Nike. Leonard’s promotion comes alongside the exit of Antoine Andrews, Nike’s head of diversity and inclusion who was one of the six Nike executives who’ve left the company. While the company wouldn’t comment on his departure, Leonard’s new role alongside Andrews’s exit is certainly telling.

Nike’s expedition to promote more women within the company was laid out last month in an internal memo sent out by Monique Matheson, Nike’s head of HR. In the memo, obtained by the Portland Business Journal, Matheson said Nike will prioritize improving the “representation of women and people of color,” as it focuses on “a culture of true inclusion.”

Matheson admitted that Nike’s senior level of talent was not diverse enough, and that its “hiring and promotion decisions are not changing senior-level representation as quickly as we have wanted.” Matheson wrote that Nike will first address this at the VP level, which explains the promotions of Montagne and Leonard.

She also shared in the internal memo that while Nike has hundreds of vice presidents, only 29 percent of the employees holding such a senior-level position are women. Of the company’s directors, the next tier of authority, only 38 percent are women. Matheson said that Nike will work toward diversity in four steps: “Hold leaders accountable, develop diverse talent, inclusive hiring, and accelerated training.”

Nike is in desperate need of women at the top, as details about inappropriate workplace behavior and sexual harassment have begun to leak. Women told the Times about male employees who openly bragged about carrying around condoms and discussed strip clubs at work dinners; there were managers who groped subordinates but were only given verbal warnings, and a boss who called an employee a “stupid bitch.” The incidents go on, and confirm all the negative Glassdoor reviews Racked dug up about Nike’s headquarters back in March.

“I have been told multiple times to ‘sit and keep my mouth shut’ during a meeting (Female typically in all male meetings),” one Glassdoor review read. “Many women I talk to are super sick of the boys club atmosphere. ... 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,” read another.

Raising women up in Nike won’t just be an improvement for company morale: It’s necessary for Nike’s business. As the Times reported, Nike’s women’s category is seen as less of a priority at the company, and it’s not given an equal budget as Nike’s men’s products. As far as fitness apparel goes, it has to compete with a brand favorite like Lululemon, which has a large focus on women’s clothing (and is being forced to have a reckoning of its own, following their CEO’s departure and reports of a toxic work culture).

Nike is also currently coming head to head with a small but fierce competitor: Adidas. While Adidas’s American business is only a fraction of Nike’s — $5.4 billion, compared to Nike’s $15.2 billion — Adidas’s sales jumped 25 percent last year, while Nike’s only grew 3 percent. Analysts are also now saying Adidas “has a better sense for what consumers want to buy.”

Nike might just be onto a not-so-secret way to find out what women want to buy: Put women in charge.