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Nike CEO Apologizes for Corporate Culture That Excluded Some Staff

Sara Germano

Nike Inc. Chief Executive Mark Parker apologized to employees Thursday for allowing a corporate culture that excluded some staff and failed to take seriously complaints about workplace issues, according to people familiar with the matter.

The rare all-staff meeting at the sneaker giant’s headquarters follows weeks of turmoil, including the departures of several senior executives and internal complaints of inappropriate behavior.

Mr. Parker spoke in a crowded theater at the Tiger Woods Conference Center on the Beaverton, Ore., campus. The Nike veteran and CEO since 2006 apologized to those who felt excluded and felt like they didn’t have anyone to turn to about their situation, the people said.

The Wall Street Journal in March reported that Nike was investigating allegations of inappropriate behavior after a group of women at the company had circulated a survey that reached Mr. Parker. Last month, the Journal reported on flaws in Nike’s human-resources department and employees’ complaints of a boys-club culture at the company.

Mr. Parker sent an email to staff earlier Thursday inviting them to the meeting and saying he wanted “everyone to know that I’m personally committed to making Nike a place where everyone can thrive in an environment of respect, empathy, and equal opportunity for all.”

In recent days, Nike has promoted two women to senior leadership roles. On Monday, Amy Montagne was named vice president and general manager of global categories, giving her oversight of several major business units, including women’s, running, training and basketball.

Last week, the company named Kellie Leonard as its new chief of diversity and inclusion.

Ms. Montagne and Ms. Leonard, Nike veterans with more than a decade apiece at the company, filled positions vacated in recent weeks by men. Ms. Montagne was previously head of Nike’s women’s business, while Ms. Leonard was formerly vice president of communications.

Several senior male employees have abruptly left Nike or resigned their positions since March, including the No. 2 executive, Trevor Edwards. Mr. Edwards resigned from his position and will retire from the company in August. He hasn’t responded to requests for comment.

According to interviews with current and former employees, several issues at Nike hastened the recent upheaval. Last year, a group of female employees began circulating an informal survey to take stock of what they considered to be disparities in pay and promotions for women at the company, as well as alleged inappropriate behavior. The survey was brought to the desk of Mr. Parker earlier this year, these people said.

Also last year, Mr. Parker instructed the head of human resources to leave the company, following at least two internal investigations into his management, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Edwards, whose position was Nike brand president, wielded control over product categories and geographies as well as brand management. Being a friend of Mr. Edwards was one way that helped men rise through the organization, while women weren’t promoted as frequently, the people familiar with the matter said. Some people coined a catchphrase—“FOT” or “friend of Trevor,” according to former employees.

Monique Matheson, the company’s current human-resources chief, sent a memo in April to employees saying Nike has “failed to gain traction” in hiring and promoting women and minorities and disclosed that 29% of the company’s vice presidents are women and just 16% are nonwhite.

Write to Sara Germano at sara.germano@wsj.com



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