May 19th, 2018
An American Employer Awakening?
Shoemaker Nike landed in the news for a good reason. CEO Mark Parker suddenly started listening to employees. The Board heard from departing female executives that Nike had a toxic work environment, at least for women. There was an internal anonymous survey about misconduct. It listened to other women acting as an internal #MeToo task force who called out the corporation for years of treating sexual harassment and coercion complaints with indifference. They outed their own version of Harvey Weinstein, Trevor Edwards, a man being groomed to succeed Parker. He was branded an undesirable sexual predator like so many other high-profile men. Despite having been shamed into expulsion, Nike gave Edwards a soft economic landing — $525,000 payout and almost $9 million worth of stock.
Edwards was allegedly responsible for “behavior occurring within our organization that do not reflect our core values of inclusivity, respect and empowerment,” Parker wrote to employees. He saluted the “strong and courageous employees” who had come forward. The reporting attached below found that Nike has an anti-bullying policy that addresses misconduct in addition to legally mandated protections for special status group members. Hence, the negativity associated with disrespect.
Following the breaking news about the ejection of Edwards, a rarity in American business, Nike announced the termination of five others — including one woman executive. To WBI this meant that the MeToo complainants had reached beyond the narrow bounds of illegal sexual harassment. The primarily women complainants had had it with abusive practices by more people than Edwards, including the woman, Gina. By firing a woman on the advice of women employees, same gender abuse must have been practiced. That’s workplace bullying.
We hope for two outcomes: (1) that the Nike awakening to the much more prevalent and damaging practice of generalized workplace abuse in addition to sexual harassment is real and sustainable, and (2) that American employers see the challenge posed by early adopter Nike and start to replicate the corrections in their own C-suites.
Purging high-level bullies will never likely be a fad, but it is certainly time that major corporations (and stagnant government agencies at all levels) discover bullying and choose to eradicate it for the psychological safety of the vast majority of its workers. Stop protecting and defending abusers.
Could this be an American employer awakening? We wait to see.
The Bloomberg News and France 24 reports about Nike …
Companies Have an Aha! Moment: Bullies Don’t Make the Best Managers
by Matthew Townsend and Esmé E Deprez, Bloomberg, May 9, 2018
Nike’s ouster of a top executive casts new light on the hard-knuckled behavior common in many offices.
After Nike Inc. ousted a handful of male executives for behavior issues over the past few months, some media reports tied the departures to the #MeToo movement and its revelations of sexual harassment and assault. Interviews with more than a dozen former Nike employees, including senior executives, however, paint a picture of a workplace contaminated by a different behavior: corporate bullying. The workers say the sneaker giant could be a bruising place for both men and women, and that females did bullying, too. On May 8, Nike signaled as much when it confirmed four more exits stemming from an internal misconduct inquiry, including the departure of a woman with more than 20 years at the company.
The surprise announcement in March that 55-year-old Nike brand president Trevor Edwards—who had a reputation for humiliating subordinates in meetings—would leave following an internal investigation about workplace behavior issues suggests the coddling of tough guys may have come to an end. “Some companies are realizing that a bullying boss isn’t the best way to manage a company,” says David Yamada, a professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston who’s authored antibullying legislation. “Maybe we’re starting to see a tipping point.”
Gary Namie, co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute, who consults with businesses on workplace issues, says one reason some companies have long tolerated or even encouraged such behavior is that many American managers believe the workplace is by nature rough around the edges. “Bullying is inextricably interwoven with capitalism,” he says. “It creates a zero-sum, competitive work environment where people feel they need to obliterate their competitors.”
Some former employees say that was the case at Nike, particularly among managers who used abusive tactics to safeguard their own position or authority. “There are a lot of very talented people deeper in the organization who have been marginalized both by senior and middle management trying to protect their domain,” says Shaz Kahng, who was a senior executive at Nike for six years through 2010. “People are often promoted based on relationships, not on results.”
In response to complaints, including from departing female executives, Nike ousted Edwards, who’d been a favorite to become the company’s next chief executive officer. Edwards, according to some of the former employees, at times bullied workers through insults and disparaging comments. More important, once he set the tone, other people mirrored his behavior, they say. A handful of executives who worked for Edwards have since left Nike.
“I’ve been disturbed to hear from some employees of behavior inconsistent with our values,” CEO Mark Parker said in an emailed statement. “When we discover issues, we take action.”
Nike also provided Bloomberg with the transcript of a town hall Parker held on May 3, in which he vowed the environment will change. “We all have an obligation—and it’s non-negotiable—to create and cultivate an environment of respect and inclusion,” he told employees. “And that starts with me. I apologize to the people on our team who were excluded. … We’re going to move from a place where the loudest voices carry the conversation to [one where] every voice is heard.”
The company declined to make Edwards available for an interview. He’s acting as an adviser to Parker until he retires in August, when he’ll receive a $525,000 payout, according to public filings.
Nike says it’s reviewing how it deals with complaints, redesigning management training, and beginning unconscious bias awareness education for employees this year. It’s also vowed to promote more women and minorities into leadership roles. Currently, managers are 38 percent women and 23 percent nonwhite.
Workplace bullying is often defined as behavior—including verbal abuse, derogatory remarks, humiliation, and undermining work performance—that results in physical or mental harm. About 1 in 5 Americans say they’ve been the target of it, according to a 2017 survey by Zogby Analytics that was commissioned by the Workplace Bullying Institute. Men make up 70 percent of the perpetrators and 34 percent of the targets. “It’s a significant and still underreported problem,” Yamada says. Surveys have shown such behavior is four times more prevalent than legally actionable sexual harassment, he says. “Bullying looms large.”
Ironically, Nike is one of the minority of companies that has a formal antiharassment policy that calls out bullying behavior such as verbal abuse, intimidation, humiliation, and retaliation, according to a copy obtained by Bloomberg. It also notes that harassment not based on a legally protected characteristic, such as gender or race, can still violate company rules.
One reason few companies have specific antibullying policies is that there aren’t federal or state laws in the U.S. outlawing the behavior, which makes America a laggard when compared with Western Europe, Canada, and Australia.
“Some companies are realizing that a bullying boss isn’t the best way to manage a company”
A lack of legal protections greatly reduces the possibility of liability for employers. It’s difficult to bring a lawsuit based on bullying, and businesses have worked to keep it that way. Over the past decade, antibullying bills were introduced in about 30 states, but they’ve all been defeated after opposition from corporate lobbying groups, Yamada says. A workplace bullying bill is gaining sponsors in Massachusetts’ legislature, but its future is uncertain. If there were antibullying laws, companies would be liable and do more to deter the practice, according to Namie. “It’s the only form of abuse that hasn’t been addressed by law,” he says. “It goes beyond gender to ‘I’m powerful, I can do any damn thing I want.’ ”
When executives feel entitled or untouchable, that often leads to bullying and then to other inappropriate behavior, Yamada says. In many of the workplace environments that resulted in some of the high-profile #MeToo moments, such as that at Weinstein Co., an “undercurrent” of bullying created a belief that mistreatment would go unpunished, he says. “It’s that bullying atmosphere that helps to enable and empower sexual harassment.”
According to the former Nike employees, the lack of a fear of reprisal created an environment where male executives, many married, could pursue and have sexual relationships with subordinates and assistants—behavior Nike says it tries to prevent but doesn’t prohibit. Many times the careers of those involved were unaffected, which only normalized the behavior, they say. And when there were repercussions, the men received little if any punishment, while women often faced consequences. In one instance several years ago, they say, an executive was caught having sex with his assistant on a conference table. He wasn’t disciplined, some of the people say, but the woman was reassigned.
Several former female employees describe similar experiences of encountering several slights and offenses—not one egregious incident—that increased as they moved up the ladder. One woman says her boss, a senior director, had derogatory nicknames for female staffers and would overtly favor men on the team with better opportunities. A former female manager says a male colleague had multiple complaints of bullying made against him to human resources, but the only punishment meted out was a delayed promotion. Eventually, frustration with Nike’s handling of such incidents persuaded several women to leave the company, they say.
The situation was particularly galling to employees who’d been drawn to Nike because of its cool and progressive reputation, burnished by such advertising slogans as “If You Let Me Play” and its T-shirts adorned simply with the word “equality.” “We always wished the company would live up to its marketing,” says one former female executive. “But it didn’t.”
BOTTOM LINE – Nike’s marketing positioned the company as a promoter of self-expression and equality. But former employees say it allowed a culture of workplace bullying to flourish.
Five More Executives Fired as Nike Confronts Workplace Harassment
by Agence France-Presse (AFP), May 10, 2028
Nike has dismissed additional executives as it moves to address a workplace culture marred by sexual harassment and bullying, embarrassing a brand that has self-defined around equality and empowerment.
The latest departures, confirmed Wednesday by a Nike spokeswoman, consist of five executives, including one woman, and raise the total departures to around a dozen. This includes former president Trevor Edwards, who had been seen as a CEO in waiting.
Since Edwards’ departure was announced in March, US media reports have chronicled myriad cases in which women were subjected to sexual harassment and often passed up for promotions in a boorish frat-like culture.
The revelations have come amid a broader rethink in US society over gender relations following the downfall of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and the ensuing #MeToo movement that has toppled numerous figures across business, politics and entertainment.
Remaining Nike brass have said little publicly about the staffing overhaul beyond chief executive Mark Parker’s remarks in March emphasizing the need to address “some behavioral issues” that clashed with Nike’s culture.
“I’m committed to ensure that we have an environment where every Nike employee can have a positive experience and reach their full potential,” Parker said on a March 22 earnings conference call.
The upheaval comes as Nike has experienced sales stagnation in North America, offset in the most recent quarter by a strong performance in China and other overseas markets.
CFRA Research analyst Victor Ahluwalia said it was too soon to know if the problems would further dent North Americans sales, but he predicted the company’s travails could trouble consumers.
Nike’s famous “Just Do It” slogan emphasizes empowerment, as do sponsorships of iconic athletes such as Michael Jordan and Serena Williams.
“The company was viewed as progressive and kind of millennial friendly, so for something like this to happen with a brand that comes with that kind of a message was shocking,” said Ahluwalia.
But Ahluwalia praised the company for “being proactive”, in contrast to other companies that responded to workplace scandals only after problems publicly surfaced, usually in media reports.
“Clearly work needs to be done and I think it will take time,” Ahluwalia said. “Being proactive does position the company much better for the future.”
“It is just cruelty”
Since Edwards’ departure was announced in March, others to leave have included top executives in digital marketing, diversity and inclusion and Nike basketball.
The housecleaning was spurred by a survey of frustrated female workers in Nike’s Oregon headquarters who polled their peers, finding widespread sexual harassment and discrimination and presenting the data to CEO Parker, according to a New York Times expose.
The Times article also cited women who reported problems ranging from being cursed at by an abusive male boss to excluded from key meetings, and passed up for promotions.
The staff dismissals follow an initial investigation into workplace conduct launched in March, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The latest group of outgoing executives includes Helen Kim, a vice president for North America, whose departure suggested to some experts that Nike’s focus was no longer strictly about addressing sexism but had broadened to countering the problem of bullying.
“The larger problem is the workplace bullying, or as we call it, abusive conduct in the workplace, because that ignores gender boundaries and it ignores race,” said Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute. “It is just cruelty.”
“Apparently Nike’s workplace culture is a very competitive, aggressive one that may sometimes deteriorate into bullying behaviors and sexual harassment and discrimination,” said David Yamada, a professor at Suffolk University Law School.
“Perhaps the departures signal a core shift in management philosophy and practice for the better, but it’s obviously premature to make that determination.”
Some analysts worry the problems will prevent Nike from reaching a target of $50 billion in annual revenues, compared with $34.4 billion in 2017.
“Any time you see a large group of senior people leave very quickly for any reason, you better hope they have a very strong bench that can step in quickly,” said Sam Poser, analyst at Susquehanna Financial Group.
This entry was posted on Saturday, May 19th, 2018 at 1:53 pm and is filed under Employers Doing Good. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.