Nike Inc. is no stranger to the spotlight.
The past year has seen the athletic behemoth face heightened levels of attention and scrutiny regarding its corporate culture, treatment of women employees and its past compensation practices for sponsored pregnant female runners.
Just this week, the Beaverton, Ore.-based athletic brand’s internal policies were back under the microscope when a Bloomberg article called attention to supposed internal dissension around an expansion of its current childcare offering, The Nike Childhood Development Program.
The benefit, introduced nearly three decades ago, offers Nike employees subsidized childcare on-site at the brand’s World Headquarters in Oregon. Currently, about 500 families are utilizing the perk, but as The Swoosh’s staff count has grown — it’s more than doubled in the past decade alone — another 740 names sit on a waiting list.
To address the issue, Sandra Carreon-John, Nike’s global corporate communications director, said the brand forged a partnership with Endeavor Schools, an education management organization, and is rolling out a plan that will enable it to double the program’s current capacity, as well as upgrade and expand the facilities. The critical hang up for some employees, however? The program will need to move off-site — trading off what some may consider an invaluable perk — to accommodate the expansion.
“Change is hard. This is a change — and [while] it’s designed to expand the program and make it more available and continue with the premium level of service and significant subsidies, it does entail going to a different building,” Carreon-John said. “We totally understand that that is hard for some and they might be disappointed about that, but it is designed to serve more people.”
Indeed, Nike’s decision to offer and extend a perk that many working families are unable to afford — only about 3% of companies provide on-site childcare services, Bloomberg noted — might be worth applauding.
“It seems Nike is trying to do the right thing in making the program available to more employees,” said Matt Powell, VP and senior industry advisor for The NPD Group.
The Bloomberg report pointed to an employee petition signed by 1,300 Nike staffers whose main goals, the publication said, were to push for keeping the facilities on-site, retaining its caregivers and maintaining Nike’s oversight of the program. However, Carreon-John said that keeping oversight — as well several other key benefits of NCDP — have been part of Nike’s plan from the start. The company has also pledged to ensure the new facility is within 5 to 10 minutes of Nike’s current and expansive HQ — which, Carreon-John pointed out, can take at times take 10-plus minutes to traverse from one building to another.
What’s more, according to Carreon-John, about 30% of current employees in the program don’t work out of Nike’s main campus — making it difficult to dissect the kinds of commuting issues some workers anticipate.
Regarding issues with retention and the long-term professional advancement of caregivers who work at Nike’s on-site facility, the brand is anticipating that teachers and other service providers may find new benefits in the change.
“Endeavor has an amazing track record of investing in faculty and staff members’ careers,” Carreon-John said. “Endeavor will retain all Nike employees — they’re being offered to stay on. If you’re continuing on your path of early childcare development, Endeavor will be able to offer things like professional development training. They’re able to provide different professional certifications and send employees to external training programs.”
Whether Nike team members are celebrating the proposed changes or worried about them, Carreon-John said the brand is hopeful that its decision to “be transparent” and tell workers about the plan 18-24 months in advance will help them prepare. And since NCDP is offered for children ages 0-5, many of its current participants may have moved on to other facilities and schools by the time the new changes take effect.
In the wake of a year of very public reckoning for the brand — which began last March with a series of executive departures and a New York Times exposé that purported a toxic “boys club” culture — it’s unlikely that Nike will be able to ward off the attention around its internal policies in the near term. Meanwhile, as the #MeToo movement takes hold, and more companies and their people talk more openly about the challenges of diversity, inclusion and creating safe workplaces where all employees can thrive, heightened awareness will continue to be placed on corporations — in particular, powerhouse brands like Nike.
“Nike is certainly not the only brand having these issues,” Powell said. “Every brand is having to do some kind of circumspection.”
Still, what insiders have noted is that in calling out Nike’s supposed missteps, it’s critical that issues are placed in accurate context and that positive changes — big and small — are recognized accordingly.
Meanwhile, since Nike’s current childcare program also accommodates same-sex couples as well as fathers, Carreon-John noted that the brand sees the issue as one that “addresses parental need in a comprehensive way.”
“Equality is a core value at Nike. Over the past year, we’ve worked really hard to continue building on our culture to ensure that it is inclusive and representative of diverse thoughts, backgrounds, experiences. These actions have made us our stronger,” Carreon-John said. “While we’ve made progress, we are committed to doing more by continuing to accelerate efforts and expanding representation of women and diversity of all dimensions across our business.”
In an annual report, dubbed Nike Impact and released last month, the brand offered an update on its newly accelerated goal of attracting and developing “an increasingly diverse, engaged and healthy workforce.” It said increased VP-level representation of women by 4% to 36% globally and VP-level representation of U.S. underrepresented groups by 3% to 19%. The brand also succeeded in reaching global pay equity ratio for men to women, and white to underrepresented groups in the U.S.