One of the critiques often leveled against corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts is that they are sometimes pursued for motives other than promoting genuine diversity, equity, and inclusion. Instead, some critics say, such efforts are simply good PR, an appeal to an increasingly socially conscious consumer base.
It’s a perception companies are very aware of and actively seeking to change. Case-in-point: shoe and apparel giant Nike has recently announced a new policy requiring greater transparency in its pay and promotion data. Focusing specifically on the “D” in DEI—diversity—the company has vowed to release such data, parsed by gender, race, and ethnicity by the end of 2024, writes Caroline Colvin, in an article for HR Dive.
Investor Community Increasingly Values DEI
The move, Colvin says, was driven in large part by the company’s investors, fearing the perception of DEI hypocrisy and a gap between the company’s public statements and initiatives and its internal operations.
While acknowledging that having investors demand more transparency related to companies’ DEI numbers may be surprising, Nike has actually long been a public proponent, Colvin notes. “As a brand, Nike has based some of its brand on centering controversial social justice figures. See Colin Kaepernick’s “Dream Crazy” ad, which won an Emmy in 2019; Nike’s four-year $40 million racial justice commitment in 2020; and its short film We Play Real centering Black women for International Women’s Day 2021.”
Nike Has Faced Criticism in the Past
Despite these big-time public displays of DEI support, however, Nike has faced criticism in the past. “In December 2019, about 400 Nikes employees walked out to protest the brand’s alleged mistreatment of women — namely runner Mary Cain, who had spoken publicly a month prior about damaging experiences with Nike staff,” says Colvin. “University of Texas, Austin, media scholars Jennifer McClearen and Lily Kunda have also observed the discrepancy between Nike’s employee experience and its justice-oriented branding, linking it to the theory of ‘commodity activism.’”
By releasing pay and promotion information broken down by race, ethnicity, and gender, Nike will give observers an opportunity to identify any potential disparities between the compensation of similarly situated staff as well as the likelihood of being promoted based on those three elements of diversity. This will not only help hold the company accountable for its public support of DEI efforts but will also allow employees themselves to bargain for more equal pay and opportunities for advancement.
It's a start. Ideally, Nike and other companies should also have metrics to help assess their “equity” and “inclusion” efforts. In any case, transparency is important and, as we see here, a great way for companies to hold themselves accountable.
Are you ready to publicly share the results of your DEI efforts?