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.
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.
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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.”
In times of social strife, having a diverse workforce might be the only true competitive advantage.
The full letter is below.