The worlds of athletics and sportswear have changed since Nike debuted 50 years ago, and in that time, so has the definition of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“The last 50 years has been quite a journey in terms of what we now know as diversity, equity and inclusion. Fifty years ago in the U.S. is when we start to see early interest in DEI, but it was mainly understood through the lens of civil rights: equal protection under the law, as well as addressing voting and housing rights,” Nike Inc. chief talent, diversity and culture officer Felicia Mayo told FN. “Through the lens of sport, we saw moments like the 1968 Summer Olympics where athletes showed their solidarity with the civil rights movement during the medal ceremony and many other public moments. We saw shifts in society recognizing the importance of equality.”
She continued, “It’s only been in the last two to three decades that many consumer brands started to realize the value of a diverse workforce that mirrors their consumer base. As we celebrate our 50th anniversary, we can look back and say that we have always been a brand rooted in purpose and committed to creating an equal playing field for all. As we look to the next 50 years, we will continue on our journey, because there is no finish line.”
With Nike celebrating its 50th anniversary, and as it outlines its targets for years to come, Mayo said DEI will continue to be an all hands on deck effort.
For instance, Mayo said Nike is implementing a holistic learning and development curriculum globally aimed at furthering a culture that fosters trust, accountability and allyship. Also, she said Nike, in partnership with the University of Southern California, piloted a diversity and inclusion curriculum stateside that covers anti-racism, racial inequity, micro-aggressions and more that will be rolled out to the entire company late this year.
“At Nike, diversity, equity and inclusion is part of everyone’s responsibility. Our entire workforce is engaged, because it will take all of us to address these societal issues and to help us advance towards our 2025 targets,” Mayo said. “We have an expectation of our leadership team to focus on DEI integrated into business and have made it a part of their success metrics at the company.”
She continued, “DEI isn’t just a moment in time for employees. It’s happening throughout the lifecycle of the employee journey — where teammates see it in the work they do, the teams they engage with and how they engage with Nike broadly.”
One of its most notable initiatives came in June 2020 when Nike Inc. — supported by an investment from Michael Jordan and Jordan Brand — revealed its $140 million Black Community Commitment, focused on helping organizations dedicated to social justice, education innovation and economic opportunity for Black people.
Last month, Nike revealed multiple new grant recipients. Specific to education innovation, recipients will include Son of a Saint, All Star Code and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. As for social justice reform, the Equal Justice Initiative is a new grant recipient.
Nike also stated its local investments this year will total $2.75 million and reach 44 organizations throughout the country in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland, Ore., Memphis, St. Louis and Boston.
In its recently revealed 2021 Impact Report, the athletic giant shared an overview of its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts from the past year, as well as the goals it aims to hit by 2025. In the report, Nike stated it increased the number of racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. at the director level and above last year by 4.1 percentage points to 30.3%. Also, Nike stated it prioritized the wellbeing of its employees by offering expanded mental health support, free counseling, financial coaching and greater access to the Crisis Text Line.
What’s more, the report stated Nike increased its representation of women globally throughout the company to 50.4%, and since last year has increased the number of women at director level and above globally by 3.7 percentage points to 43%.
“These are pretty powerful numbers. Bringing women into the room with poise and perspective makes it a better place,” Nike VP of North America communications Vanessa Garcia-Brito told FN. “If you look at the numbers, you can say, ‘This is a winning strategy.’ Not only do we have women in different geographies who also report into a woman, the leader of our largest geography is a woman, [Sarah Mensah, VP and GM of North America]. They’re some of the most dynamic, talented minds in the world.”
Looking ahead, Nike’s targets for 2025 include several specific to its employees. For example, the company will focus on achieving 50% representation of women in its global corporate workforce and 45% in leadership positions; 35% representation of racial and ethnic minorities in its U.S. corporate workforce; and to maintain 100% pay equity across all employee levels on an annual basis.
Although Nike’s recent initiatives reveal the progress the company has made, it has not been all smooth sailing over the past couple of years.
For example, an account on Instagram titled “Black at Nike” appeared in July 2020 and featured purported stories of workers experiencing instances of racial discrimination. While the account was quickly taken down for unknown reasons, it showed that the sportswear giant was not immune to diversity struggles.
While she didn’t specifically address “Black at Nike,” Mayo said Nike strives to offer open lines of communication with its workforce.
“Through our annual employee engagement survey, we are listening to our employees and constantly getting feedback to help us create a culture of belonging,” she said. “In addition, we also do surveys throughout the year to ensure that we are constantly gathering insights and addressing opportunities to innovate for our employees and all athletes.”
Several of the athletic giant’s 2025 targets, according to Mayo, will be a continuation of its commitment to creating a more diverse and inclusive team. These include investing in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic-serving Institutions, equitable and competitive pay and benefits, education and professional development and more. Also, Mayo said Nike will focus on community commitments and partnerships, innovative career development programs, authentic and inclusive leadership curriculum, mentorship programs and more.