Nike Ad Touts Equality, But Has None on Board, Executive Committee or Even its Ad Agency

The company's "Just do it" slogan does not apply to diversity for its board members.

Nike's newest "Equality" ad has created a lot of buzz, with the media calling it a "powerful message" and a "forceful call" to equality. However, a look at the company's nearly all-white and almost all-male boardroom tells a different story.


Set in black and white, the ad features athletes in various sports, and a narrator says:

Is this the land history promised? Here, within these lines? On this concrete court? This patch of turf? Here, you're defined by your actions — not your looks, or beliefs. Equality should have no boundaries. The bonds we find here should run past these lines. Opportunity should not discriminate. The ball should bounce the same for everyone. Worth should outshine color. If we can be equals here, we can be equals everywhere.

The commercial features LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both Nike-sponsored athletes; Serena Williams; Victor Cruz; Gabby Douglas; Megan Rapinoe; and Dalilah Muhammad. Throughout the commercial Alicia Keys sings, "It's been a long, long time coming. And I know, and I know, change gonna come. Oh yes it will. Change is gonna come, oh yes it will."

But a look at the company's boardroom tells a different story of equality. Of its 11 board members, only three — or about 20 percent — are female. And racial diversity is not present, either, and looks exactly the same as it did in FY 2011.

Nike Board of Directors by Ethnicity (FY 2015)

Asian 7%
Black 14%
Hispanic 0%
White 79%

The executive committee isn't any better — eight of nine people pictured are men, and there's only one non white person, no Asians, no apparent Latinos. http://about.nike.com/pages/executives

Nike's long term ad agency, Wieden + Kennedy has a similar astonishing lack of diversity. Of the seven people pictured on their website, their "next generation of leadership" is almost all white men.

Pictures of the company's Portland and New York employees appear to show some racial and gender diversity in New York but leave it unclear for Portland employees, just outside where Nike is headquartered.

Nike has in recent years taken steps to be more transparent about its workforce, particularly after it was discovered several years ago that their shoes are manufactured in sweatshops — an issue found across many manufacturing companies. The company began putting out a sustainability report every year, highlighting its practices and acknowledging where work remains to be done.

According to its report, in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 only 49 percent of the contract factories Nike uses to produce its products met the bronze standard on the company's Sustainable Manufacturing and Sourcing Index (SMSI). For FY 2015 this went up to 85 percent.

However, room for improvement remains in Nike's leadership ranks aside from its board. For FY 2011 and FY 2015 racial diversity in leadership/management employees barely changed.

U.S. Leadership/Management Roles by Ethnicity

FY 2011 FY 2015
American Indian/Alaska Native 1% <1%
Asian 9% 8%
Black 6% 5%
Hispanic/Latino 4% 4%
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander <1% 0%
Two or More Races 0% 2%
Unknown <1% <1%
White 81% 80%

*Numbers may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

The campaign was put out by advertising company Wieden+Kennedy. Wieden+Kennedy's website does not list its board of directors, but photos on the company's blog show no racial diversity. And pictures of the company's Portland and New York employees show what appears to be a mostly white workforce.

Nike President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Parker has outwardly spoken in opposition of President Donald Trump. He sent a letter to all of his employees slamming Trump's ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries entering the United States.

"Nike believes in a world where everyone celebrates the power of diversity," Parker wrote. "Regardless of whether or how you worship, where you come from or who you love, everyone's individual experience is what makes us stronger as a whole."

Perhaps Parker should apply his message of strength in diversity to his own company, as studies have repeatedly shown that companies with greater diversity in its leadership ranks are more profitable than those without.

PricewaterhouseCoopers' (No. 5 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list) annual corporate survey, published in October, questioned more than 800 corporate directors of public companies. Of the participants, 71 percent serve on the boards of companies with more than $1 billion in annual revenue.

When breaking down the statistics between the male and female respondents, a disparity in perspectives is revealed:

  • Women directors are much more likely to think board diversity improves company performance — 89 percent compared to 24 percent of men.
  • Women directors overwhelmingly believe board diversity improves board effectiveness — 92 percent versus 38 percent of men.

DiversityInc Top 50 survey data found a correlation between women representation on boards and diversity-management performance. The DiversityInc Top 50, on average, has 34 percent more women on its boards than all other participating companies.

Meanwhile, a comprehensive global study that researched nearly 22,000 companies in 91 countries, conducted by EY (No. 3) and The Peterson Institute for International Economics found last year that companies with women in management were more profitable than companies with fewer women in these positions.

The study, "Is Gender Diversity Profitable? Evidence From a Global Study," concluded that a company with even just 30 percent female leaders can earn an additional 6 percentage points of profit.

Incidentally, Nike's ad campaign also served as a sales ad. The company will be selling shirts that say "Equality" as part of a Black History Month collection.

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Like Nike, Audi recently aired a commercial about equality as well. During the Super Bowl, Audi ran an ad about the gender pay gap; the company's efforts were widely praised on social media. However, some Twitter users also pointed to Audi's all-male board of directors.

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