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Nike’s Learning the Hard Way That the Future Is Female

In ancient Greek mythology, Nike was a goddess who personified strength, speed and victory. Though the world’s most valuable athletic apparel brand was named after this goddess of the battlefield, somewhere along the way Nike—the company—seemed to forget that it was a woman, mythological or not, that has come to inspire billions in profits, not to mention legions of consumers and fans globally.

It was a group of women employees who channeled the goddess’s strength in amassing anecdotal evidence of discrimination and inappropriate behavior by male colleagues at the Portland-based brand, touching off a closely watched scandal that’s the first to trickle down into an athletic apparel brand in the age of Harvey Weinstein. And it’s women—two, to be exact—who have achieved a victory of sorts, not just in getting a number of “toxic” male executives dismissed but in breaking a glass ceiling that has long held female and minority employees back from climbing the corporate ladder into the highest spheres of leadership.

Last week Nike elevated longtime staffer Amy Montagne from her three-year stint as vice president and general manager of Nike Women’s to the role of VP/GM of global categories, the position vacated by Jayme Martin. The company also promoted former global corporate communications senior director Kellie Leonard to chief diversity and inclusion officer, the position left vacant by Antoine Andrews’ departure. Of note, Nike changed the position so that it’s now part of the C-suite, essentially expanding the job’s realm of influence. Montagne and Leonard were promoted due to their backgrounds as proven and highly respected leaders with deep experience in driving successful strategies across the Nike organization, a Nike spokesperson said.

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“We believe this is an inflection point for Nike’s culture—one where we see tremendous opportunity to create meaningful change in how we work, collaborate and build a workplace based on inclusion, empowerment and respect for all,” the Nike spokesperson told Sourcing Journal. “We are already taking action—holding our leaders accountable, investing in a dedicated diversity sourcing team, and accelerating manager training to be clear on our expectations around culture. And we will continue to drive change.”

There’s no word yet on who will fill the openings left behind by vice president of footwear Greg Thompson, senior brand director for Nike Basketball in North America Vikrant Singh, and Daniel Tawiah, vice president of global brand digital-marketing innovation. However, the internal promotions of Montagne and Leonard could point to future diversification within the executive ranks.

Nike’s scandal broke just weeks after it unveiled new initiatives focusing on female footwear. Even as Nike stated its ambition to grow its women’s business from $6.6 billion to $11 billion by 2020—launching the Unlaced fantasy sneaker destination as part of that plan—behind the scenes female employees were harassed by male counterparts and ignored or brushed off when they reported these incidents to human resources. Minorities and persons of color also reportedly were passed up for promotions and advancement opportunities.