Rebels at Work Revolt at Nike

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The breaking news of women at Nike revolting and forcing change is a case history in how good Rebels at Work succeed.

First some backstory.

When women at Nike brought their concerns to managers who they were supposed to be able to trust, they were ignored. When they went through formal HR processes to report harassment and unethical behavior by male colleagues, HR also ignored them. While many executives were aware of the problems, they "looked the other way."

So the toxic work environment continued and women were repeatedly passed over for promotions by less qualified men, publicly demeaned and called things like "a stupid bitch," sexually harassed, and excluded from being part of an inner circle of male decision makers. 

But a couple of months a go a small group of women banded together and revolted. Six top executives have resigned in the last month, the brand's reputation is tarnished, and the CEO is under pressure. 

Using "good rebel" practices to revolt

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While our "good rebel/bad rebel" chart is not definitive, it has helped us spread the word over the past eight years on how to make change in large organizations even if you don't have positional authority. Here's a look on how Nike women put some of these practices to use.

Attract support, do it together:  The first rule of all effective change is to not go it alone. But rather create your own Rebel Alliance, just as the women at Nike did.  There is power in numbers.

Overcome reluctance: Like most Rebels, these Nike women revolted reluctantly. They loved Nike enough to tackle an ugly, pervasive problem and a group of powerful men. But there was fear about retribution from male executives and hurting their reputations. Few of us gleefully want to rebel. Rather, it's a duty.

FOR vs. just against: According to Amanda Schebiel, a former Nike employee, "No one went to just complain. We went to make it better." Rebels don't just complain. They want to create solutions to problems that are effecting the success of their organizations and team mates.

Get evidence: to get attention, Rebels find data and proof to back up their claims. The Nike women covertly surveyed their peers about whether they had been the victim of discrimination or harassment. Once the CEO received that survey data, several top executives "resigned." Numbers count. Demonstrating the magnitude of an issue with data helps make the issue real in ways that are more difficult for executives to discount.

Change the rules vs. break the rules: The Nike Rebels didn't want to break any rules. They wanted to create new rules, oversight and diversity commitments that would allow everyone to flourish at Nike, not just the cabal. They wanted Nike to live up to its mission and values.

Rebels forcing companies to address problems

We recommend reading the excellent investigative reporting on the Nike revolt by New York Times writers Julie Creswell, Kevin Draper and Rachel Abrams.

It's a story all too familiar to many Rebels at Work.

And it is a story that reminds us of the power of people who love their company enough to band together, get the data, persevere and be heard.

The kind of sweeping overhaul that is occurring at Nike is rare in the corporate world, and illustrates how internal pressure from employees is forcing even huge companies to quickly address workplace problems.
— "Women at Nike Revolt, Forcing Change At Last," The New York Times, April 29, 2018