The treatment of female executives and athlete partners at top firms is back in the spotlight, after Nike received a wave of backlash last month when a New York Times story revealed a discrepancy in the way it paid some of its sponsored female athletes.
Over the past year and a half, the fashion, athletic and footwear industries have faced a sweeping reckoning in the #MeToo era, resulting in the abrupt departures of high-profile leaders and allegations of misconduct within directorial ranks.
Here, FN looks at the progress that’s been made in the wake of the movement, as more members of the workforce feel emboldened to speak out against unprofessionalism, inequity and harassment.
What happened: Last March, several top executives, including brand president Trevor Edwards, abruptly exited Nike. The following month, a New York Times exposé revealed a “boys’ club” culture at the sportswear company, which admitted that it had fallen short in promoting women and people of color. In July, Nike announced a plan to raise salaries for 10% of its workforce to help correct pay inequity. However, two former employees, Kelly Cahill and Sara Johnston, filed a lawsuit against the Beaverton, Ore.-based firm in August, alleging that it discriminated against women with regard to pay and promotions. Two more lawsuits alleging workplace misconduct have followed. Nike also received a wave of backlash on Mother’s Day when a NYT story revealed that it had reduced the payment of female runners Kara Goucher and Alysia Montaño when they were unable to compete for reasons including pregnancy and the subsequent postpartum period. Olympian Allyson Felix added her name to the roster the following week.
What Nike has done: On May 24, the Swoosh announced that it was taking new measures to support female athletes through contracts including “written terms that reinforce our policy.” Additionally, the company released this month its Nike Impact report, which offered an update on its newly accelerated goal of attracting and developing “an increasingly diverse, engaged and workforce.” Over the past year, Nike said it increased VP-level representation of women by 4%, to 36% globally, and it improved the VP-level representation of U.S. underrepresented groups by 3%, to 19%. It also succeeded in reaching global pay equity ratio for men to women and white to underrepresented groups in the U.S.
What happened: In November, a Wall Street Journal article alleged that Under Armour’s staffers engaged in a years-long practice of expensing strip club visits and that its managers invited women to company events based on their attractiveness. Around the same time, several former Under Armour employees and insiders recounted incidents in which they or their peers felt disenfranchised by Plank’s and the brand’s leadership. In some cases, sources believed they’d possibly been overlooked for advancement based on their race or gender.
What UA has done: In an exclusive interview with FN in February, CEO Kevin Plank rejected allegations that the company had a “frat boy” culture and that its management treated women and other minority employees unfairly. He also pointed out that nearly half of the Under Armour workforce comprises women, with a third of its leadership being female and 26% of its VPs being women, while its board of directors is 22% female. Also, in late January, the Baltimore-based athletic label hired Tchernavia Rocker as its chief people and culture officer, a newly created title to emphasize the firm’s focus on its employees and their overall work satisfaction.
What happened: Last February, Guess’ board of directors created a special committee to investigate allegations of improper conduct by Paul Marciano just weeks after supermodel Kate Upton accused the Guess co-founder of inappropriate behavior. Over the course of the investigation, which included women other than Upton, the accusations included claims of inappropriate comments and texts as well as unwanted advances such as kissing and groping.
What Guess has done: After interviewing more than 40 people and reviewing about 1.5 million pages of documents, Guess’ special committee said “many” of the allegations against Marciano could not be corroborated. However, in other cases, the investigation found that on “certain occasions Mr. Marciano exercised poor judgment in his communications with models and photographers, and in placing himself in situations in which plausible allegations of improper conduct could, and did, arise.” In June 2018, Marciano resigned from his post as executive chairman of Guess. He and the Los Angeles-based brand also agreed to pay five of his accusers a total of $500,000. Guess co-founder and Marciano’s brother Maurice took over the board post.
What happened: In mid-May, Thomas Gibb, former VP of footwear operations at Coach, filed a written complaint of sexual harassment with a lawyer. A week later, Stuart Weitzman parent Tapestry Inc. said Giovanni Morelli — who landed in the creative director post in May 2017 as the first person other than Weitzman to hold the title — had behaved inappropriately during his time at the company. Morelli exited the firm a week before Gibb filed a lawsuit alleging that the executive subjected him to “numerous unwanted touchings and endless comments” of a sexual nature that were “permitted without consequence.”
What Tapestry has done: At the time of Morelli’s departure, Tapestry CEO Victor Luis said that the company is “committed to an environment where every individual feels respected, and at times his behavior fell short of these standards.” Less than a month later, Tapestry filed suit against Gibb, who was fired in mid-June. In the complaint, the firm said that it had learned Gibb was extensively involved with another footwear brand, the flip-flop line Tidal, through a New York Times feature published in late May. (It alleged Gibb had previously revealed that he was only a passive investor in Tidal.) Tapestry then determined that his involvement in the company violated his employment agreement and claimed that Gibb had conducted Tidal business from his corporate email.
What happened: Lululemon Athletica CEO Laurent Potdevin had an alleged multi-year relationship with a female designer who worked for the brand until her resignation in 2014, after which the relationship had begun. The sportswear retailer reportedly brought back the employee to serve as a contractor on discrete company projects and did not renew her contract last January.
What Lululemon has done: Last February, the athletic apparel brand announced Potdevin’s resignation, sharing that his behavior “fell short of … standards of conduct” on integrity and showing respect for all employees. It appointed Calvin McDonald as global CEO, effective in August. However, in November, shareholder David Shabbouei accused Lululemon’s board of directors and other executives of mishandling Potdevin’s exit, claiming breach of fiduciary duties by failing to adequately address the allegedly “toxic” culture of sexual harassment and bullying perpetrated by the former CEO.
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