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Nike CEO: D&I Leadership Shake-Up Will Spur ‘Meaningful Change’

Change is afoot at Nike Inc.

Kellie Leonard, the firm’s chief diversity and inclusion officer for the past two years, has stepped down. Felicia Mayo, who joined Nike a year ago from Tesla, will lead a newly formed team as chief talent, diversity and culture officer. CEO John Donahoe announced the news in an internal memo Monday.

In addition, noted Donahoe, Julie Fuller, VP of talent and organizational effectiveness, has accepted an “exciting” role outside the company. The two departures, suggested Nike’s chief, have precipitated an opportunity for the brand “to create a structure that allows for more meaningful change, focusing on equal access to opportunity for all teammates.”

“And so, we are bringing Talent and D&I together,” Donahoe added in the memo, obtained by FN. “When we refer to Talent, we are referring to the entire employee experience: from Talent Acquisition to professional development to goal-setting and performance to promotions. Starting today, D&I will be woven into the entire talent agenda from the very beginning, with measurement and accountability throughout.”

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Nike has long been known for its provocative marketing and staunch support of boldface minority athletes. The Beaverton, Ore.-based brand made headlines for its early support of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as its decision to enlist then-polarizing NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick to star in a campaign after his anthem-kneeling protest against police brutality in 2016.

Still, since stepping into the top post at the Swoosh last year, Donahoe has had to contend with several internal D&I challenges, which have been amplified by the national conversation about racial injustice following the death of George Floyd.

Last month, three accounts cropped up on Instagram: Black at Nike, Women at Nike and LGBT at Nike — all purporting to recount instances of worker mistreatment or disenfranchisement at the brand.

Nike, like many of its industry peers, has a significant concentration of minority employees at the lower levels of the company, but those diversity levels fall off at the higher ranks.

According to its 2019 “Nike Impact” report, 21.6% of the firm’s employees are Black, while about 10% of its VPs are Black (up from 8% in 2018) and 4.8% are at the director level or higher (up from 4.5% in 2018).

For what it’s worth, Nike has steadily made progress on many of its D&I goals, recently boosting its corporate board from 23% Black in 2018, to 31% in 2019.

In a June 11 company memo, Donahoe told staffers the brand was ramping up its efforts around diversity and inclusion in a bid to get its “house in order.” Nike is now focused on four key areas to improve race relations internally: representation, professional development, inclusion and belonging and education. (The company, at the time, led the corporate movement to acknowledge Juneteenth as a paid company holiday.)

“As I have listened deeply during my first six months and over the past few weeks, what I have learned is that many have felt a disconnect between our external brand and your internal experience,” he wrote to employees. “You have told me that we have not consistently supported, recognized and celebrated our own Black teammates in a manner they deserve. This needs to change.”

Nike’s new D&I leader, Mayo, has been working in the space for about a decade, serving as VP of Human Resources and Diversity & Inclusion at Tesla before joining the Swoosh. Her appointment follows Nike’s formation last month of a D&I Acceleration Taskforce, co-chaired by Brandis Russell, VP of global footwear for Converse, and Phil McCartney, VP and GM of global footwear for Nike.

“We are not remolding or rebranding what’s old,” Donahoe said Monday. “This is a structural shift. Bringing talent, diversity and culture together represents an intentional and important systemic change for Nike.”

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