Nike CEO Mark Parker speaks at the Boston College CEO's Club of Boston luncheon in Boston, Massachusetts May 1, 2014. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS) - RTR3NG7D
Photograph by Brian Snyder — Reuters
By Ellen McGirt
July 15, 2016

In a letter to his 32,000 employees and shared exclusively with raceAhead, Nike Chairman and CEO Mark Parker spoke directly to the recent, troubling issues of race, violence and policing that remain top of mind in the U.S.

 

“Like many of you, I’m struggling to make sense of the incomprehensible. We have experienced heartbreaking, disturbing and challenging times in the United States. I have watched with sorrow the events that took place across the U.S. The loss and pain experienced in Minnesota, Louisiana and Dallas have left communities, institutions and even the nation tested. Our thoughts are with all those impacted and their families and friends.”

 

There is every reason to believe that there are plenty of Nike employees feeling pain and despair. The company is extraordinarily diverse.

In a broad staffing and sustainability report released in May, the company revealed that for the first time ever, “minority” employees, a healthy mix of black, African American, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islanders and other ethnic groups, are now 52% of their workforce. (Specifically, black/African American employees are 21% of Nike’s staff in the U.S., while Hispanic/Latino workers are 18%.)

Parker is adding his voice to those of his most famous athlete-partners, like Serena Williams, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, who have all been effective advocates for equity, and have been willing to participate in frank discussions about race.

But it’s more than just inspiration at a difficult time. That Parker is tackling this as a CEO, not just through the marketing lens of a powerful cultural force, appears to be an extraordinarily important development for the growing diversity and inclusion movement in corporate life.

 

Sign up for raceAhead, Fortune’s daily newsletter on race and culture here.

 

He indicates that a series of meetings in key Nike offices are being planned for the future, to hold listening and dialog sessions.

Given the diversity of Nike’s workforce I expect that these sessions will be unusually fruitful. Consider how they’ve been addressing environmental impact issues in their supply chain. What if Nike is able to use management systems thinking to tackle issues of race and bias?

When Nike shared their diversity figures in May, they released this statement: “To serve every athlete individually and completely, across hundreds of countries where we do business, we need teams that reflect the diversity of our consumers and a culture of inclusivity that respects the communities in which we live and work.”

Majority of Nike’s US Employees Are Minorities

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In times of social strife, having a diverse workforce might be the only true competitive advantage.

 

The full letter is below.

 

Team,

 

Like many of you, I’m struggling to make sense of the incomprehensible. We have experienced heartbreaking, disturbing and challenging times in the United States. I have watched with sorrow the events that took place across the U.S. The loss and pain experienced in Minnesota, Louisiana and Dallas have left communities, institutions and even the nation tested. Our thoughts are with all those impacted and their families and friends.

 

Nike has a long history of supporting the marginalized and those whose voice is not always heard. In many cases our athletes have eloquently argued for change and to stop the situation. Last night, at the ESPYs, we heard athletes like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul powerfully speak out about the issues facing society. Others, like Serena Williams, have also made their voices heard.

 

As a company, I’m proud that Nike takes a stand on issues that impact all of us, our athletes and society as a whole. And I am proud that Nike stands against discrimination in any form. We stand against bigotry. We stand for racial justice. We firmly believe the world can improve. We are a diverse company and, as we stated in our recent Sustainable Business Report, are firmly committed to making it more diverse and inclusive.

 

We cannot solve all these profound, longstanding and systemic issues. However, one thing will always be clear: discrimination in any form and racial injustice are destructive forces. And talking about these issues can help find peace and paths forward. I firmly believe we are at our best when we engage and listen to those around us, in our communities at home and at work. It’s impossible to leave our emotions and experiences outside the work place – they inform us and make us who we are.

 

We don’t have the answers, but it’s important to try to talk about the issues we’re facing. Antoine Andrews, VP of Diversity and Inclusion, will work with the North American leadership team in the coming weeks to help facilitate meetings at WHQ and in our NY, Chicago and LA offices to allow us to talk about what we are facing together. Conversations don’t solve everything, but dialogue will help. Our voices matter. This is your company and we want you to be heard.

 

In difficult times, it’s important to speak up. We cannot change the past, but we can impact the future.

 

Thanks,

Mark Parker

Chairman, President and CEO, NIKE, Inc.

#blacklivesmatter #stoptheviolence

 

When she’s not writing about the world’s greatest rock star-leader, Ellen McGirt is busy working on Fortune’s raceAhead, a newsletter about race and culture.

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