Nike added a Latina executive to its board last week. Influential Texas officials had previously criticized gaps in the sneaker giant’s board-level diversity.
The Just Do It company is trying to win tax breaks on a proposed distribution center in Dallas County, where commissioners have twice delayed voting on a $60 million automated facility that would create 500 full-time jobs by 2025. Nike is working with LPC Southport III on the projected warehouse in Wilmer, Texas, a “high priority area” where more than 20 percent of residents live in poverty, said Economic Incentive Initiatives president Eric Geisler, who’s representing Nike to county officials. Salaries would average $37,000, a $7,000 bump over the broader area.
The company is seeking 10-year, 50 percent tax abatements on real and business property increases, according to the proposal submitted in February. Nike’s U.S. distribution center network includes facilities in Memphis, Tenn., Byhalia, Miss., and Bethlehem, Pa., along with three California locations in Los Angeles, Foothill Ranch, and Ontario.
In a Sept. 6 Dallas County Commissioners Court session, District 4 representative Dr. Elba Garcia called out the eight Latinos ranking among Nike’s 314 VP-level executives. “If you want to make it even better, in the board of the directors there’s none,” she said, pointing to the 42-percent Latinx population in Texas.
“That’s a shame,” Garcia said. “You’re telling me that they have these numbers and come to Dallas County and ask for a 50 percent tax abatement?”
District 3 representative John Wiley Price was similarly reluctant to greenlight Nike’s proposal. “If we go down this road, we go down it begrudgingly,” he said. He went on to express his desire for a mechanism that could make it “contingent in our policy” that the Oregon company improves on high-level diversity in exchange for the county approving its project.
County Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins was more than willing to give Nike a shot at meeting the county halfway, saying that with “Dallas being a majority minority city, we should have those discussions and see what results.”
District 2’s J.J. Koch cited Nike’s track record of making changes when it matters. “Nike has been responsive in the past,” he said, referencing Public Enemy’s 1991 rap “Shut’em Down” that blasted the sportswear maker’s failure to materially support the communities buttering its bread. Frontman Chuck D said the Billboard hit “is about major corporations like Nike taking profits from the [Black] community, but not giving anything back, never opening businesses in [Black] areas,” according to an interview with Melody Maker that same year.
Koch went on to say that if Nike “changed their ways in the ‘90s, I guess they can do so again regarding making sure they hire more [diverse leaders] on their board.”
Melissa Vaillancourt, manager of government and public affairs for Nike, appeared on video from Beaverton to describe diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) as a “continued strategic priority” at the athletic company. She rattled off some of Nike’s DEI targets and accomplishments, though Garcia again reiterated the dearth of Latino representation when Vaillancourt highlighted the 12-person board’s four women and three African American members.
The commissioners agreed that a “multi-million-dollar corporation” like Nike has the resources and influence to assemble a board that matches the demographics where it operates. Dallas County can afford to pick and choose which industrial projects move forward because “we’re not in a place to be desperate,” Koch said.
Garcia later responded to Wiley’s joke about rumors that Serena Williams might join Nike’s board by saying “we need to find that Latino counterpart.”
The commissioners abstained on voting on Nike’s real estate proposal during both of September’s meetings. They will have the opportunity to consider it again during their next session on Oct. 4.
Nike on Sept. 21 announced NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises marketing executive Mónica Gil joined its now 13-member board along with Andreessen Horowitz operating partner and former Intel CEP Bob Swan. The news came one day after Dallas County again delayed voting on the distribution center proposal.
Nike declined to comment on the timing of Gil’s board appointment.