Corporate communications departments frequently conduct employee surveys to monitor employee sentiment and improve corporate culture. The recent Nike PR crisis shows just how powerful surveys can be in exposing potential problems such as a dysfunctional corporate culture and endangering a brand’s reputation.
Six high-level male executives resigned or announced plans to depart after a survey of female employees revealed extensive sexual harassment and gender discrimination at the sports apparel maker. Feeling their careers stymied and their concerns ignored, a group of female executives secretly polled female employees. Women said they were passed over for promotions, marginalized at meetings and subject to unwanted sexual advances. They said the company’s human resources department brushed off their complaints.
The group gave the survey results to Nike CEO Mark Parker. Investigations and departures ensured. Nike is reviewing its human resources operations and its internal reporting procedures, according to The New York Times. Parker, who professed he felt “pained” by the revelations, called an all-staff meeting to apologize for a corporate culture that excluded some employees and ignored their complaints.
Nike CEO Apologizes
It’s hard to believe Parker was unaware of the issue, writes business and technology writer Minda Zetlin in Inc. HR had received numerous official complaints. Parker himself had received a letter from a high-level female executive who explained the problems.
Zetlin cites three vital takeaways from the incident:
- People with complaints can no longer be ignored or isolated. HR departments at some companies may deceitfully tell an employee with a grievance that they’re the only one complaining – and not reveal that others have reported the same problem. That’s no longer possible with surveys and online networking among employees.
- A survey is data. Many companies owe their success to data. They can’t ignore data that shows harassment is a problem at their workplace. Follow-up surveys mean more data. A follow-up survey at Nike might show some improvement.
- A survey is news. Because a survey is data, it’s newsworthy. Major newspapers reported the Nike survey findings, even though the women who conducted it did not share the results with the media. Parker likely acted because he knew the survey results could have landed on a reporter’s desk first.
Nike Maintains Goodwill
Perhaps surprisingly, Nike has not suffered a public backlash, at least not yet. The news did not spread widely on social media. Sentiment toward the brand, even among women, remains positive, according to Fast Company. That could be because Parker responded quickly after receiving the survey results or because Nike has built up a reservoir of goodwill that helps protect it against controversy.
Other brands might not be so fortunate in the future. The Nike story may prompt employees at other companies to conduct similar surveys. Some corporations may survey their employees in a preemptive attempt to uncover problems and improve dysfunctional behavior.
“Either way, a toxic workplace environment can ruin a business, whether the public cares or not,” points out Hannah Abrams, senior content editor for Promo Marketing. Poor workplace culture could soon damage recruiting efforts.
Bottom Line: A survey of Nike female employees that revealed widespread sexual harassment and gender discrimination demonstrates the power of surveys for data collection. More corporations may consider employee surveys to improve their corporate culture, protect their reputations and head off a PR crisis.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.