The USC Race and Equity Center is engaged in a robust, multidimensional partnership with Nike. Every aspect of this work is focused on strategically advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Over the next two years, we are providing numerous resources and high-quality professional learning experiences to more than 75,000 employees across all levels, ranging from the most senior executives and headquarters employees to professionals who work in retail, distribution center, and air manufacturing locations on every continent where the Nike, Converse, and Jordan brands operate.

“The rigor, depth, and massive breadth of this partnership are most exciting to me,” says Shaun Harper, our Founder and Executive Director. “As a lifetime Nike aficionado, I consider it a privilege to work in such serious ways with one of the biggest brands on the planet. In every way, they have been the perfect partner.”

One focal activity is a yearlong DEI Leadership Acceleration Academy for nearly 400 Nike employee network leaders and members. Skill building, problem solving, racial literacy, and leadership development are emphasized in every component of the curriculum that our team and Nike leaders co-designed. Academy members meet monthly for a live, three-hour interactive professional learning experience taught by our center’s subject-matter experts. We tackle a different DEI topic each month and situate it in the context of the Nike workplace. Here are the 12 topics:

  • Engaging in Productive Conversations About Race in the Workplace
  • Holding Oneself and Colleagues Accountable for Advancing DEI Goals
  • Recognizing and Reducing Implicit Bias
  • Hiring and Strategically Diversifying the Workplace
  • Supporting and Partnering with Nike Employee Networks
  • Disrupting Homophobia and Heterosexism
  • Making the Workplace Inclusive for Trans and Genderqueer Employees
  • Investing in and Cultivating Relationships with Communities of Color
  • Marketing Products to Communities of Color
  • Being an Anti-Racist Ally at Work
  • Meeting the Needs of Employees with Disabilities
  • Communicating Company Commitment to DEI

In addition to the live monthly learning experiences, Academy participants meet for quarterly synthesis sessions in which they apply the trio of the most recent topics to contexts outside of the United States. This time also affords us an opportunity to hear directly from Academy participants who work and live in other countries about how the content resonates with them.

In 2022, we are launching a similar professional learning series for thousands of Nike managers and people leaders. These will be live, synchronous virtual learning experiences. While credible research will undergird them, sessions will not be too theoretical, abstract, or uselessly academic. Each session will be highly engaging and interactive. Instructors will use contemporary cases of DEI dilemmas and crises in business. Emphasis will be placed on learning from sagas that have recently occurred elsewhere; learning how to get ahead of situations and reducing risk of crisis; and learning actionable leadership strategies. Like the DEI Leadership Acceleration Academy, the series for leaders and managers will be inclusive of persons who work in the U.S. and other countries across the globe.

Creating custom digital content on a range of DEI topics for all Nike employees is another feature of the partnership. The Center is producing a series of 60 digital shorts. A professionally produced 3-5 minute video will be released each week over 15 months; every month will be focused on one specific DEI topic. The week 1 video will succinctly describe a DEI issue and how it is experienced in workplaces; the week 2 video will describe how company cultures, practices, and policies related to that issue affect employees and customers; the week 3 video will focus on raising consciousness about the issue and determining where and how it might be operating at Nike; and the week 4 video will offer practical ways to disrupt that issue and create sustainably inclusive environments for employees and customers. We will leverage Nike’s tech resources to deliver these weekly videos to every employee. A discussion guide for managers and leaders will accompany the four videos on each DEI topic. “The discussion guide and the actual workplace discussions are absolutely critical to the impact of this series,” Harper adds. “It is not enough to have employees watch the weekly videos; they also have to talk about them with teammates and apply them to their local workplace environments.”

Almost unanimously, Nike employees who have participated in our professional learning experiences thus far have deemed them excellent and practically useful. “The significance of our center’s multiyear partnership with Nike is evidenced by the impact of the learning experiences we’ve had thus far,” notes Richard Nassar, our center’s Chief Strategy Officer. “As a center grounded in research on organizations of all sizes and across so many contexts, we’re able to share our expertise while being mindful of the nuances of designing and delivering DEI services to a global industry leader like Nike.”