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How Nike’s Track Program ‘Emotionally and Physically Abused’ a Star Athlete

November 8, 2019, 1:27 PM UTC

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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! The BBC tries to defend an alleged pay gap in court, Quebec legislation limiting “religious symbols” for public-sector employees dashed one woman’s dreams, and athlete Mary Cain describes her “emotionally and physically abusive” experience with Nike. Have a nice weekend.


- Running for change. When star female track athletes sponsored by Nike—including Allyson Felix and Alysia Montaño—became pregnant, they lost out on pay if they failed to meet athletic benchmarks in contracts that didn't account for the realities (or existence!) of pregnancy. 

The scandal led Nike to change how it treats pregnant athletes. Now, another track and field star has come forward with an even more disturbing story of her time with the brand. 

Mary Cain was "the fastest girl in America." Six years ago, at 17, she signed with Nike, where she trained with the towering track and field coach Alberto Salazar. 

Instead of succeeding under his rigorous training program, Cain collapsed. Cain describes what happened in a video with the New York Times: Salazar pressured her to lose more and more weight in a program she calls "emotionally and physically abusive." Cain lost her period for three years, broke five bones, and began having suicidal thoughts under his regimen. Everyone she turned to for help—nearly all men—were in Salazar's orbit and told her to listen to him. It wasn't until she told her parents that she got out. (Salazar denied some of her claims to the NYT and Nike didn't respond to the paper's request for comment. The company later announced it would launch an immediate investigation into Cain's claims.)

"I wasn’t even trying to make the Olympics anyone. I was just trying to survive," she says. 

Salazar has now been caught up in a doping scandal, and Nike has a new CEO. But Cain says that reforms at Nike have only happened because of the doping issue—and have failed to address the "system designed by and for men that destroys the bodies of young girls." 

Cain is still running, and she wants the system to truly change: new coaches (not Salazar's former assistants), women in power (she says she never had access to a female psychologist or nutritionist), and a culture where Nike is no longer "all-powerful." 

Watch her own powerful words here

Emma Hinchliffe

Know a standout female leader at your company or another? Tell us about her! We’re taking nominations for Fortune’s upcoming Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit, where we convene ascending leaders to talk about business, share advice, and connect with one another. It’s Dec. 10-11 in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Submit your nominations here.


- Pay gap goes to court. BBC executives spent this week in court defending themselves against allegations that the broadcaster paid journalist Samira Ahmed less than her male colleague. Ahmed earned £440 per episode of the program she hosted, Newswatch, while her BBC colleague Jeremy Vine earned £3,000 an episode for hosting a program she says is equivalent. In defending itself, the BBC downplayed Ahmed's work and achievements. New York Times 

- Dreams dashed. Lawyer Nour Farhat has long wanted to become a prosecutor at home in Quebec. But legislation passed by the province that prohibits public-sector employees from wearing religious symbols, including head coverings, has thrown a wrench in her plans. "It really shut all my doors,” she says. “Five months ago I would have told you ‘I’m a future Crown attorney.’ I was so sure of my path." Guardian 

- Pay up. European Union competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager has her eye on Apple Pay. "We get many, many concerns when it comes to Apple Pay for pure competition reasons," she said. CNBC 

- Inside out. An interesting detail on the leadership gap from this study of academic medical institutions: women are at an especially strong disadvantage in the field when they're external candidates rather than promoted from within. Harvard Business Review

- A harbinger of big things. Megan Bent's Boulder-based Harbinger Ventures just completed a $21.7 million second round of funding (making the total under management $27.8 million). The fund has already invested female-led companies including Cora and Fourth & Heart. Fortune

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Accenture named Penelope Prett chief information officer. The Conference Board named Lori Esposito Murray president of its public policy center, the Committee for Economic Development. Erdem named Chloé's Philippa Nixon CEO. Optoro hired Geeknet's Katy McCarthy as CFO. Apple VP of corporate financial planning Saori Casey joins the board of Houzz. Hanna Hennig has been named CIO at Siemens AG.


- What comes next. Esta Soler, the founder and president of Futures Without Violence, writes for Fortune about how businesses can build on the progress made by #MeToo. Fixing pay and leadership gaps, making clear that survivors will be believed and supported, and promoting accountability for management and employees are all ways companies can make a difference. Fortune

- MBA players. Applications to American business schools are declining, but the percentage of women enrolling in full-time MBA programs is rising. Women now make up 39% of MBA students at top programs in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Wall Street Journal

- Asian representation. In Fortune sister newsletter raceAhead, McKinsey chief diversity and inclusion officer Lareina Yee and two of her colleagues write about Asian representation in business—specifically at the top. While workers of Asian decent make up 13% of the U.S. professional workforce, 7% of business leaders at Fortune 100 companies are Asian. Fortune

- Single parents. Chinese women who are single mothers are often unable to access social services like public health care and education for their children. China's detailed family code doesn't mention single parents, leaving them in a legal gray zone. NPR


The education of Natalie Jean Elle

Talking to men about their female role models is still like pulling teeth MEL Magazine

Honey Boy director Alma Har’el carves out space for female filmmakers Fortune

Jennifer Lee, queen of the Frozen franchise New York Times


"Men are out there asking for extravagant sh*t and getting it. Everyone is bluffing about everything all the time."

-Writer Lindy West on why you should "just go for it" in negotiations


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