John Donahoe took over as Nike CEO in January 2020.
Kim Kulish | Corbis via Getty Images
Nike Chief Executive John Donahoe sent a memo to employees Friday regarding the protests that have been sparked by the death of George Floyd, saying the sneaker retailer must fix its own business.
“While we strive to help shape a better society, our most important priority is to get our own house in order,” the letter reads.
“Nike needs to be better than society as a whole. … While we have made some progress over the past couple of years, we have a long way to go,” he said about Nike’s diversity and inclusion efforts.
Donahoe said employees have made this need for progress at the company “loud and clear” to him over the past two weeks. The company is also committing $40 million over four years to support black communities, he said, which will be spearheaded by Craig Williams, the president of the Jordan brand.
Donahoe’s note follows Nike releasing a moving ad last Friday, telling viewers not to “pretend there’s not a problem in America.” The drop of the video online came just as protests were beginning to occur in cities nationwide, after a white police officer in Minnesota pressed a knee into Floyd’s neck and taking him into custody.
“Don’t turn your back on racism,” the video, which has since been shared nearly 100,000 times on Twitter, says.
Nike has been on the forefront of other social issues before.
The company’s “Dream Crazy” campaign in 2018 for the 30th anniversary of “Just Do It” featured former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The football player gained attention after he began protesting police brutality against African Americans by “taking a knee” during the national anthem in 2016.
To be sure, the company has arguably fallen short and has been criticized in the past for lack of diversity among its own ranks, and poor treatment of employees — particularly women. And some have said Nike’s marketing rings hollow because of this.
Nike Brand President Trevor Edwards resigned in 2018 amid complaints about poor workplace conduct. And after a group of women circulated an informal survey that examined disparities in pay and advancement, Nike said it boosted the salaries for more than 7,000 workers. Some of Nike’s former female athletes, including Olympic champion and runner Allyson Felix, also spoke out about their contracts being cut by Nike during their pregnancies.
According to a diversity report on Nike’s website, 21.6% of the company’s total workforce in 2019 was Black or African American, slightly down from 23.5% in 2017.
But as you move up the leadership ranks, that percentage shrinks drastically. In 2019, just 4.8% of Nike’s directors were Black or African American, and 9.9% of VPs identified as that race.
“We know Black Lives Matter,” Donahoe said Friday. “We must educate ourselves more deeply on the issues faced by Black communities and understand the enormous suffering and senseless tragedy racial bigotry creates.”
Here’s the full letter from Nike Chief Executive John Donahoe: