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Nike is going through an executive shakeup over sexism and harassment in the workplace, and now the shoe and athletic gear company is trying to rebuild. From Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Erica Morrison has the story.
ERICA MORRISON, BYLINE: After 14 years working in Nike's IT department, Ann Wallace left the company in January.
ANN WALLACE: That was a really tough decision. I didn't want to leave Nike, necessarily. My whole time at Nike, I mean the majority of it, I loved the company. I loved working there.
MORRISON: But things changed in her department when her boss, who was also a woman, left six years ago. Wallace says her team was no longer protected from misogynistic behaviors.
WALLACE: Certain individuals within that organization that constantly would berate women, talk down to women, interrupt.
MORRISON: Shoot down their ideas, make excuses for disrespectful behavior of male counterparts. And there were the scantily clad women hired as entertainment during out-of-town recruitment events. After many complaints to management and being told she was too sensitive or that it was too hard to fire people, she left. Then in March, something happened Wallace didn't expect. Nike President Trevor Edwards announced he would be retiring from the company in August. The next day, it was announced Vice President Jayme Martin was leaving. In April, five more senior leaders' departures were announced. Then The New York Times reported more last week, bringing the total to 11. Nike is in the midst of a company-wide overhaul. An informal survey of women at the Oregon headquarters revealed complaints of pay inequity, inappropriate workplace behavior and a lack of career advancement for women. The survey was delivered to CEO Mark Parker. He's apologized to people who were excluded and called them brave for speaking out.
WALLACE: When I was reading the things that came out about Nike, I was surprised, but at the same time with all the other things that have come out in the last year with the Me Too movement, I'm not surprised, either.
MORRISON: Wallace says she wasn't aware that problems were so widespread.
WALLACE: I think it's been labeled in articles as workplace bullying.
MORRISON: It has.
D'WAYNE EDWARDS: Certain pockets of the company where that athlete, that jock kind of mentality kind of does exist, and I guess it spills over into some of the corporate processes at times.
MORRISON: D'Wayne Edwards was a designer for the Jordan brand of Nike products. He says the laser focus on the athlete at Nike has made the company what it is today, from the successes to the shakeups happening now.
EDWARDS: Maybe in this instance, it may have, you know, hurt them a little bit by having a bit too much of testosterone.
MORRISON: Edwards is the founder of the footwear design academy PENSOLE in Portland. He tells his students they should have a full understanding of who they are and what their employer is about before they start their careers. At Nike, he says the culture around athletics and the tendency to hire athletes meant a lot of people didn't understand...
EDWARDS: That this is not the locker room. This is a corporate environment, and there's a different way to act and behave.
LIZ DUNN: Perhaps if this wasn't the environment there, their women's business might be bigger.
MORRISON: Retail analyst Liz Dunn says there's a connection between Nike's in-house problems and the company's retail performance in North America. The company's sales have slowed in the U.S. Adidas and Under Armour are gaining on them.
DUNN: They've struggled with their efforts to market to women, and they've had a lot of talent leave the organization, not just these people who have been dismissed, but also the women who've been leaving because their careers have been stalled.
MORRISON: Ann Wallace can name five other women who left when she did. She works at Google now. She says she has faith Nike will improve.
WALLACE: I still have a lot of woman friends who work there so I do hope for their sake and whoever comes next it does change, but, I think it will.
MORRISON: A Nike spokesperson says the company is determined to build an inclusive workplace culture and has taken the steps to do so.
For NPR News, I'm Erica Morrison in Portland.
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