Is This a Major Sign Your Company Culture is Broke?

Or, is this just the reality of workplaces today, in the world we live in with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements?

That’s the question I was asking myself this week when the Wall Street Journal reported that a group of female employees at Nike circulated their own survey about workplace behaviors. Here are some details from the Quartz at Work article:

According to The Wall Street Journal, the developments were precipitated by an employee-led survey circulated among women at the company. It reportedly asked respondents about inappropriate behavior by men at the company and gender inequities more generally.

Sources told the paper that Parker eventually learned of the survey, which led to a recently completed six-month formal review of company culture. Then, last week, employees learned that Nike brand president Trevor Edwards, widely considered Parker’s likely successor, would step down in August, while one of his top lieutenants, vice president Jayme Martin, was terminated immediately. According to the Journal, the two men “protected male subordinates who engaged in behavior that was demeaning to female colleagues.”

So, before I give you my opinion, I have to tell you I’m a complete Nike fanboy! My first pair of Nike’s happened around the 6th grade when I was in high school the first Air Jordan’s were released. I saved my money all summer to get my first pair (by the way, I came home from college to find my Dad mowing the lawn in these same shoes, believing since I left them in my closet I no longer wanted them!). I’m not a complete sneakerhead, but I’m a wannabe sneakerhead for sure. I love Nike, as much as anyone can love a brand.

I believe Nike’s culture is fine. It’s probably better than most places to work in the world by a great deal. I feel this way from people I know who work there and feedback I hear in HR circles. Nike is not Uber, by a million miles.

I think this shows that every workplace, no matter how good, still has some things we need to clean up. Should female employees at Nike have to circulate their own survey to deal with poor workplace behaviors? No. But, understand that Nike, over most companies, hires emboldened, powerful women. That means this isn’t surprising. The surprising part would be that these women didn’t take action.

I’m not sitting in Nike, so I don’t know if the response that happened was right, or enough. On the outside looking in, it seems like the senior leadership team handled this appropriately.

In the past, I can only imagine how this would have been handled, but my guess is it wouldn’t have been with a senior leader leaving the company, it probably would have been a lot of coaching these female employees around the appropriate way to lodge a complaint, followed by many of these females eventually leaving or being pushed out.

That was the old HR/leadership playbook. That playbook no longer works.

I would love to hear your opinion on this real HR issue and how it was handled by a very visible brand? Hit me in the comments!


2 thoughts on “Is This a Major Sign Your Company Culture is Broke?

  1. How can you say, “I believe Nike’s culture is fine.” Someone was terminated immediately for protecting male subordinates who were engaging in demeaning behavior! How is that a “fine” culture? By Nike’s own admission, they had a culture were women could be, and were disrespected with no consequences. There is nothing fine about that. Come on Tim, you’re one of the good guys. Where is your outrage? Why did HR and senior management fail so completely? Why did the women have to circumvent the normal channels and generate evidence to be heard and believed? If it was bad enough that someone was “terminated immediately” it wasn’t an isolated he-said-she-said case. Bravo to the women who took action but where was senior management?
    I think the more interesting part of this story is about how different your employee satisfaction surveys would be if you let the employees generate the questions. I suspect most surveys ask banal questions and the results come back that everyone is happy, happy, happy – yet turnover continues.

    • Maury,

      I’m not outraged because I’m a grizzled HR veteran who understands every single large organization has issues. When I say Nike’s culture is “Fine”, what I’m saying is, for the most part, 99% of the time, people are being treated with dignity and the appropriate behavior. In a large organization, you’ll never be at 100%.

      Also, someone wasn’t terminated immediately. It took six months of investigations to get someone terminated ‘immediately’. This is HR. This is organizational dynamics. Unfortunately, employees, at every level, do bad crap. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have jobs in HR.

      I think the most intriguing fact of all of this is that we’ve reached a point, in a non-union environment (I would be scared if I was a union! What? Employees can actually protect themselves!?), where employees are stepping up and showing other employees how you can move a culture on your own, and not wait for HR or Leadership to move it.

      I still think Nike’s culture is ‘fine’. 😉


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