A Battle of the Sexes at Nike

Business of Fashion recently released a report on diversity issues in the fashion industry. They did research to analyze the “15 largest public companies in fashion” to reveal that there is a lack of diversity in leadership positions.

Wen Zhou, chief executive at 3.1 Phillip Lim, shared her perspective on the issue. She discussed how the fashion industry is advanced in many ways, but when it comes to diversity and women’s issues, the rate of change is very slow. The reality is that even though there may be more diversity with models and marketing campaigns, this does not seem to extend into the executive offices. Few companies have developed programs to foster female leadership and diversity at this level.

This research was released in a timely manner to recognize the current battle within Nike. The company scandal that came to light in March revealed a “locker room” mentality within the organization. These revelations counteract Nike’s goals to connect with female shoppers and target young women for their sneaker sales. Research has revealed that millennials want to pursue employment in organizations that align with their values and that have a higher purpose. In the same way that consumers search for this in their professional lives, they will also use these values to guide their purchasing power.

It is clear that in the marketplace, consumers are demanding more from fashion companies. As seen with Fashion Revolution Week, consumers will no longer make their purchases blindly. They are demanding more information from brands about their policies and values. This should intimidate larger companies to re-think their “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” traditions. Yet, companies like Nike are just starting to recognize these “bad habits”. Even with this recognition, they seem to do more rebranding to help sales, than addressing the internal issues of discrimination.

We heard from Zhou that the industry as a whole is slow to change. However, recent reports demonstrate that employees who were subject to this discrimination are taking matters into their own hands. A group of women from Nike’s headquarters conducted a survey of their female peers to investigate who had experienced sexual harassment and gender discrimination. They turned their findings over to the chief executive of Nike, Mark Parker. In the subsequent weeks, “at least six top male executives left or said they were planning to leave the company”. While the actions that this group of women took were courageous and successful, we are disappointed that the company has not done more to address these issues.

As complaints continue to come forward, Nike is starting to review the events that occurred and their human resources operations and reporting process. While the company slowly investigates, news outlets will continue to expose gender discrimination and diversity issues. The New York Times interviewed former Nike employees to reveal how they felt ignored, harassed, and demeaned. As these stories continue to arise, consumers will have more transparency and information about the type of company they are purchasing from when they buy new sneakers or athletic wear. Now, it is Nike’s turn to make some sustainable changes to the environment in their business offices.

Information and Images Gathered From: Business of Fashion I; Business of Fashion II; Business of Fashion III; Nike

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