Some current and former employees of Nike have come together to post allegations of racism and mistreatment within the company.
The anonymous Black at Nike group is “amplifying Black voices from current and former Nike employees” via Instagram. BIPOC are encouraged to send their stories via a Google link to the non-Nike affiliated space.
One post on Tuesday night alleged that a current vice president, who is a white woman, referred to Serena Williams as “scary to some girls,” during a team meeting a few years ago. “They don’t look up to her because she isn’t beautiful to them. And that is why they chose to highlight different athletes, during the Rio Games. Those athletes were white with accolades that paled in comparison, which made me think were we celebrating perceived beauty or wins?” the post claimed.
The person also alleged the current vice president “did it again, during a PRO session with her global sportswear team — about 60 people,” consistently saying that Williams was “scary” for “some female consumers and some people had a hard time looking up to” her.
That post had received more than 600 likes as of Wednesday morning.
Black at Nike creators responded to interview requests sent by WWD, but said they have decided against speaking to the media. “The story isn’t ours to tell. The story needs to come from the [currently] 76 experiences shared on the Instagram page,” they wrote.
The space had nearly 8,600 Instagram followers as of Wednesday morning.
The @BlackatNike respondents, who opted not to identify themselves, said many of the Black employees at the activewear giant have been “suffering in silence alone. Many have been laid off due to retaliation. Many feel they should shut up and work, in fear of not being able to thrive in the corporate system.”
They continued, “This account is also for the masses at Nike who have benefited from these racial prejudices against Black, Latino, Asian, indigenous employees, and either had no idea it was happening, were too scared to speak up or were too self-centered to care.”
By sharing stories, the group is trying to help “lift some burden“ from current and past workers “hurt from words and actions while working at Nike.” The aim is also to help the POC community at Nike “realize they’re not alone in these shared experiences.”
The creators also said it is time for senior leaders to value the Black and POC employees in the same way they value Black and POC consumers. “Nike can no longer turn a blind eye to the racism that is happening on their watch, every single day at WHQ in Beaverton, Ore., and in their stores around the world.…If the leaders at Nike do not address or dismiss these stories from their Black and POC employees, they’re completely missing the point. Tolerance to racism in any form is still racism.”
Asked if a committee has or will be formed to validate the claims and respond accordingly, a Nike spokesman said Wednesday, “We urge every employee to speak up if an employee experiences something that does not align with Nike’s values and policies. Anything that is reported goes to employee relations, and then a thorough investigation is completed. If it is determined that there was a violation to our Matter of Respect policy, corrective action up to and including termination will be taken.”
As for whether there are plans to address the Black at Nike allegations in a formal way, the spokesman said, “We’re at our best when every member of the team feels respected, included and heard — when everyone can show up fully as themselves and have the opportunity to do their best work every day. To that end, we’re focused on four key actions across the company: increasing representation on all levels of the organization; providing professional development to support people to advance and grow their careers at Nike; embracing inclusion and belonging as a priority for our culture, and accelerating education to become a more inclusive culture.”
As of FY19, 22 percent of Nike’s 76,000 employees worldwide identified as Black or African-American.
The Black at Nike submissions page notes that all entries will remain 100 percent anonymous. Refraining from using specific names is requested. The page reads, “In good faith, please share your personal stories with racism and microaggressions,” both within their teams and worldwide.
It also notes that the account is “solely focused on elevating Black and POC voices, so we’re not sharing stories around general bullying, gender inequity and sexual harassment. Make your voice heard.”
Earlier this year, Nike vowed to donate $40 million to support the Black community. NBA legend Michael Jordan and the Jordan brand have pledged an additional $100 million. As is the case with many Fortune 500 companies, many employees are calling for more than goodwill donations and are demanding systemic change within their respective infrastructures to strive for racial equality.
The Black at Nike movement mirrors that of another employee-led effort at Adidas and Reebok, where numerous workers have united to call out alleged bad behavior by employees, and to demand equality for all employees. Adidas subsequently revealed $120 million will be invested toward U.S. efforts to support Black communities through 2025. Adidas is also developing new U.S. Anti-Discriminatory and Harassment Standards, which will be governed by a third-party investigator.
Two weeks ago Adidas AG executive board member Karen Parkin, who headed up global human resources, exited the company after coming under fire for controversial remarks made at a companywide meeting last year. The 23-year company veteran had said the concerns about how non-white and LGBTQ employees were “noise” and that the concerns were only stemming from the sneaker giant’s North American offices. Some Adidas and Reebok employees had repeatedly called for a public apology and internal investigation, prior to her departure.
On Tuesday, one post at Black at Nike referred to the current state at the Beaverton headquarters: “Sitting in a manager training kick-off right now and the lead just mentioned something to the effect of, ‘We see Adidas having trouble with diversity and inclusion — it’s so good to know that we’re on the right side of the issue,’ as if everything is just fine at Nike and racism only exists elsewhere.”
A Black at Nike post from earlier this week described “a Zoom touch base” after the Memorial Day weekend. Talking about a photo of people partying at Lake Ozark (“like we’re not in a pandemic”), the employee alleged that a white male teammate said, “Yeah, I lived in Arkansas for many years. Nothing but hood rats live there any way.”