A group of female employees at Nike Inc. last year circulated an informal survey about alleged inappropriate behavior by men at the world’s largest sportswear maker, people familiar with the matter said, a move that preceded the ouster of two veteran executives last week.
The women were frustrated with what they saw as pay disparity and a gender imbalance at the highest ranks of Nike, the people said, amplified by the exit of several female senior operating executives last year.
The women were also concerned about allegations circulating internally of inappropriate workplace behavior by some men and drew up the survey to gather information about these issues, the people said.
The distribution of the survey came to the attention of longtime Nike Chief Executive Mark Parker in recent months and triggered a formal review of workplace behavior by an outside firm, the people said. The results of the survey couldn’t be learned.
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A Nike spokesman declined to comment. The company is scheduled to report its latest quarterly results on Thursday.
Last Thursday, Mr. Parker sent a memo to Nike employees disclosing the continuing internal review and said the company’s second-ranking executive, Trevor Edwards, had resigned as Nike brand president effective immediately and would retire from the company in August.
Jayme Martin, a top lieutenant to Mr. Edwards, was also forced out of the company, people familiar with the matter said. Nike on Friday confirmed Mr. Martin’s exit after The Wall Street Journal reported it.
The company hasn’t specified why either executive is leaving. Both Mr. Edwards and Mr. Martin had spent decades at Nike in various roles, and Mr. Edwards was considered the heir apparent to Mr. Parker, 62 years old, who has been CEO since 2006.
Messrs. Martin and Edwards protected male subordinates who engaged in behavior that was demeaning to female colleagues, according to one person familiar with the matter. Their lieutenants bullied people who weren’t in their work group, this person said, such as women and individuals from foreign countries.
Neither Mr. Edwards nor Mr. Martin have responded to requests for comment.
Nike, which has more than 74,000 employees around the globe, has fostered a competitive internal culture, borrowed from the world of sports and channeled into the sneaker industry. It has prized loyalty and groomed talent from within—its highest ranks are filled mostly by men that have spent decades at the Beaverton, Ore., company.
Leadership turnover in the last year has left fewer women at the top of the organization. The highest-ranking female executives are the company’s general counsel and head of human resources, the latter of whom was promoted last July.
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