When Unpaid Training Doesn’t Feel Voluntary at All

The company highly encourages attendance at training sessions during the lunch hour. Should you sacrifice your break, or ask to be compensated?

CreditMaria Nguyen

Send your workplace conundrums to workologist@nytimes.com, including your name and contact information (even if you want it withheld). The Workologist is a guy with well-intentioned opinions, not a professional career adviser. Letters may be edited.

I work for a 25-person company, and in most ways I am quite happy with my job. There has been room for advancement, the projects are varied and interesting, and the people are fun to work with.

My problem is we have weekly training sessions during our lunch hour concerning the computer program we use for all of our projects. These sessions, which are designed to make us more efficient and consistent, are “highly encouraged but not required.” Those of us who are “encouraged” to participate are paid for 40 hours per week (anything beyond that is overtime), and we’re told that we cannot count the training hour as part of our 40 hours.

I think it is useful training, but it means I do not get a break on those days, and I resent losing my small amount of personal time in the middle of the day.

If I skipped the training regularly, I would miss important information that makes me able to do my job effectively. In other words, this doesn’t feel just “highly encouraged”; it feels required. So I want the hour of work to count as an hour of work.

Is there a good way to work out this issue? Or should I just continue to seethe a little bit each week and keep quiet?


Even controlled seething is never the best long-term option. But your frustration is understandable, because your company’s position on this training — you don’t have to participate, yet you feel skipping it will hurt your performance — sounds murky. To figure out your best strategy, it helps to understand the broader context.

A lot of people are paid hourly. In 2017, about 58 percent of all American workers were, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and most were eligible for overtime.

A pretty clear-cut federal regulation most likely applies in this kind of situation, said Allan Bloom, a partner at Proskauer, the law firm, who specializes in employment and labor law.

In short, the rule defines a four-part test for what kinds of activities an employer can ask and reasonably expect an overtime-eligible worker to participate in without payment.

Any voluntary activity — meetings, lectures, training sessions and so on — must occur outside regular working hours; really be fully voluntary; not be directly related to the employee’s job; and not involve performing any actual “productive work.” State laws might add to this framework.

Your training seems at odds with some of these criteria. While it occurs during a lunch hour, Mr. Bloom noted, it is smack in the middle of the workday, and that alone, he said, might give workers “a pretty good argument that they should be paid.”

Moreover, training on a computer program you use routinely seems designed to improve your regular work, added Elizabeth Tippett, an associate professor at the University of Oregon School of Law who has studied wage and ethics issues. “If it is related to your job, you’re supposed to be paid,” she said.

And finally, there’s at least some ambiguity about how voluntary the sessions feel.

Given all this, I think it’s worth bringing the matter up with your employer. (Remember that The Workologist is not an attorney, and the legal experts I spoke to cannot offer specific advice.)

CreditGracia Lam

Ideally you’d go to human resources, or the company’s legal department, and seek some clarity. Your company may be too small for that, so you might pick the manager you think is most likely to be sympathetic or at least sensitive to the underlying issue. Explain that you want to do your job as well as possible and that attending these sessions helps — but that this suggests the time ought to be paid.

You needn’t level accusations, or make this in any way confrontational. “A lot of companies that are well intentioned don’t know there’s an issue,” Mr. Bloom said.

So given that your workplace culture as described sounds generally positive, you’re probably better off making “a business argument,” as Ms. Tippett put it.

For example, you might say something like: “Clearly you want us to invest time in our skills so that we’re more effective. I’m willing to give my lunch hour over to that investment. Can you meet me halfway and compensate that time? That way we’re both contributing.”

If you belong to a union, of course, you always have the option of pursuing the matter through that channel.

These concerns are also important for employees who receive a flat salary, rather than hourly wage, though the legal specifics are different and the details may be complicated.

Most such workers are not eligible for overtime and are considered exempt from the relevant regulation that we’ve discussed here. Even so, any worker (or manager) who feels there’s a mismatch between duties and pay can always negotiate — perhaps using some of these same arguments.

It’s worth trying to show management that there is a way for employer and employee values to align. In a tight labor market, no company benefits from employees who are quietly seething.

Workspace: Bursts of Work, and Lots of Movement

Sue Stephens, who heads a customer retention team for LinkedIn in Dublin, works in 25-minute increments and roams her company’s expansive offices as often as she can.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen

Sue Stephens, who is from Amsterdam, leads LinkedIn’s customer success consulting team for Italy, Spain and Portugal.CreditFran Veale for The New York Times

Dublin’s Silicon Valley

Our campus is a 10-minute walk to the center of town. We’re on the Grand Canal, not far from the Grand Canal Dock, now known as the Silicon Docks area because of all the tech companies that have located here. It’s also an easy walk to landmarks like the Guinness Storehouse, a tourist attraction, and St. Stephen’s Green Park, a historic park.

An open office and a virtual team

I’m on the third floor of the original building on campus, which has an open office environment. I lead the customer success consulting team for Italy, Spain and Portugal. A couple of staff members are here with me, and others are in Milan and Madrid.

My team works with our business-to-business customers in a pre- and post-sale role. As an example, if a company buys a license from us to use in recruiting candidates from LinkedIn, we explain how to use it and make sure the company has success with it.

Noise-canceling headphones help Ms. Stephens concentrate in one of her favorite perches at LinkedIn’s Dublin offices.CreditFran Veale for The New York Times

During the break I often leave encouraging Post-it notes or thank you cards on the desks of my colleagues. I might thank someone for getting me coffee in the morning when I was late for a call.

I wear noise-canceling headphones when I need to, and I move to different areas of the building to help with concentration and as part of my transition ritual. You might find me in the coffee lounge, the library or sitting on a ledge in the atrium with a pillow.

Choices, choices

For lunch, I go to the new building, also an open environment, with my team. I’m eating a more plant-based diet now. There are 27 chefs there. I have to pinch myself about the assortment of food.

A gift from a colleague at a former job is a reminder of Ms. Stephens’ resilience.CreditFran Veale for The New York Times
“I’m not the only one big on thank-you notes here.”CreditFran Veale for The New York Times
A heart made by a young niece is a cherished keepsake.CreditFran Veale for The New York Times

Heart and family

When I first left home, to work in London, my niece gave me a heart she made for me. She was about 4. She said she was going to miss me and didn’t want me to forget her. I cherish it. I don’t know what I’d do if it was damaged. I hold it in my hand when I’m on a conference call or walking around the office. I’ve moved over 10 times and realize I don’t attach to things. Home is where the heart is.

Ms. Stephens’s nephews Keony, left, and Trey on a background that Trey painted when he was 3.CreditFran Veale for The New York Times

A package from home

The photo on the colorful background is of my nephew Trey and his older brother, Keony.

Trey was 3 when he painted it, and my sister sent it to me in London. Surprises like this are great when you’re far from home.

The Workologist: Your Job Is More Intense. Your Pay and Title Haven’t Kept Up.

You’ve been asked to take on a higher-level role. But any decision about a formal promotion has to wait “a few months.” Here’s how to start that conversation right away.

CreditMaria Nguyen

Send your workplace conundrums to workologist@nytimes.com, including your name and contact information (even if you want it withheld). The Workologist is a guy with well-intentioned opinions, not a professional career adviser. Letters may be edited.

The project I was working on at my job was shelved because of budget constraints. Rather than lay me off, my company asked me to take on a higher-level role.

The catch: This new opportunity wasn’t going to come with a formal promotion. In other words, I was asked to do more challenging work, with no title or compensation change. I made it clear to my boss that a formal promotion was important to me, but he told me nothing could be done for at least “a few more months.” When should I go back to him and ask again? I’ve only been in this new role for two months, but already have tangible accomplishments to show.


“A few more months” is an irritatingly vague timeline. The most important thing to do is try to get that clarified — and I’d do so soon.

To prepare, give some thought to what you really want, and why. Of course, you’d prefer a whopping raise and impressive new title immediately. But those “budget constraints” may truly limit what your boss can do. Would a slight salary increase, or a new title alone, satisfy you? The answer is personal, but sort it out before you start this discussion.

Then set up a meeting, and be straightforward about the agenda: You’ve embraced the challenge of taking on new responsibilities, and now that some time has gone by you’d like to get a clearer sense of what might happen next, and when.

Point to specific achievements, and benchmark them against particular markers within your organization or profession. As in: “I did X, which I believe normally would qualify me for Y.” (Leave room for feedback, so you’re sure that your boss sees your work the same way you do.)

Rather than make explicit demands, see how the boss responds. An on-the-spot promotion may not be realistic, but pin down next steps. If the answers (or nonanswers) remain vague, suggest a timetable yourself. And if the process drags on, explore whether your new experience might help you land a better gig elsewhere.

It’s better to start this dialogue than to stew about it. Your boss may not feel any motivation to bring up the subject while you’re making life easier for him. And if you wait until you’re really frustrated, you’re more likely to march into a negotiation with a collection of hard-set demands that may be driven as much by resentment as logic — a recipe for more frustration.

CreditGracia Lam

What Are Your Personal Office Gossip Rules?

In your response to Renee — the worker who may have gotten a colleague in trouble by repeating her vacation plans in front of a manager and accidentally revealing that she may have faked a sick day — you missed some opportunities that might have been helpful to an employee in a corporate structure.

Sorry, but Renee is at fault. Over-interest in a colleague’s travel details aside, Renee shouldn’t have been blabbing about someone else’s vacation to an indiscriminate group of co-workers in the first place. It’s fine to have an enjoyable conversation directly with the vacationer. But that should’ve been the end of the story.

Renee even acknowledged that company management is known for retribution and retaliation — even more reason to stay quiet. Maybe the manager involved was simply calling the bluff of the office gossip.


A few other readers blamed Renee for this entire episode.

Frankly, I am surprised by that critique. In general, this column takes the position that being “friends” with your colleagues is overrated: The point of work is work, not making new pals.

But I’m still in favor of basic civility — and small talk about vacation plans struck me as thoroughly innocuous. “Isn’t it cool that X is going to Asia? She’s taking a midnight flight!” seems less fraught as water-cooler chatter than, say, divulging a “Handmaid’s Tale” plot development that someone else may not have seen yet.

But your Workologist is open-minded — and, now, highly curious: Do you have a personal rule of thumb for what one can or should share with, or about, a co-worker?

In the earlier item, Renee and her friend had a casual chat about an approaching vacation. It seems to me the friend should not have said anything she didn’t want repeated. But perhaps we should just never talk about any colleague’s nonwork life in her absence. Or perhaps the answer depends on who is listening.

Clearly there’s a line between the basic banter that makes daily coexistence possible, and gossip that could reasonably have negative, or even corrosive, consequences. Drawing that line depends on the actual information being shared — but possibly the context of the sharing is even more important.

Can we create a set of baseline rules that separates problem gossip from acceptable small talk? I would love to hear your ideas, and hope to revisit this subject in a future column.

The Workologist: When a Subordinate Is Friends With the Boss

You might wish you could put a stop to a suspiciously chummy office relationship — but you can’t. Instead, you need to figure out a way to manage around it. Here’s how to proceed.

CreditMaria Nguyen

Send your workplace conundrums to workologist@nytimes.com, including your name and contact information (even if you want it withheld). The Workologist is a guy with well-intentioned opinions, not a professional career adviser. Letters may be edited.

I recently joined a tech start-up (with 70 or so employees) in a management position. I have noticed that my boss goes on morning and evening walks every day with one of the people who reports to me.

It makes me uneasy that a guy who reports to me is chumming around with my boss — especially because I know he is a bit of a chatterbox and a gossip. These walks, and the pair’s apparent closeness, make me a little hesitant in giving an honest performance appraisal of this worker who I am supposed to manage.

It also makes me nervous that these two may be discussing a lot more stuff behind my back — and maybe about me.

Am I justified in feeling a little peeved? How do I overcome this?


That sounds annoying and maybe even a little weird. (Two walks every day?) But your first step is to avoid turning this into a bigger problem than it probably is by conjecturing nightmare possibilities.

Peeved as you may be, it’s unlikely that you can change this relationship, whatever it actually is. You’ll ultimately need to figure out how to manage around it. While it may be wise to take care what you say in front of your chatty subordinate, that’s a short-term solution.

Your second step is to get some facts, while screening out distracting speculation. You might start by asking around among your colleagues or other managers. Don’t overdo this: You don’t want to come across as if you’re launching some paranoid investigation. But I can’t imagine you’re the only one who has noticed the behavior, so simply floating an innocuous query — “Those two seem close. Are they old friends?” — by someone you trust will likely get you some basic answers.

And soon you should probably have a straightforward, low-key conversation with your boss. Not panicked or accusatory, “What are you guys talking about?” Just make a casual inquiry. Mention that you’ve noticed that they seem close and ask if they were colleagues together elsewhere or know each other socially.

Frame this as basic professional curiosity: You are, after all, a manager learning the dynamics of a new company. Ask in an open-ended way and hope that the response yields useful context. Who knows, maybe you’ll learn that they don’t talk about work at all, but rather some other shared interest.

Ideally, your boss will realize, without being bluntly informed, that this situation might trouble you, and will promptly set you at ease. But even if that doesn’t happen, what you want is to shift from a state of being concerned to one of being informed.

If some specific problem really does emerge — a performance issue with your employee, for example — you’ll be better prepared to make a case that sticks to the business at hand, whatever this pair’s relationship may be.

CreditGracia Lam

Does Asking for a Chair Seem Entitled?

I recently started an internship with a company where I hope to work some day. The other interns and I work from laptops, while seated on stools around a communal table.

I have a chronic, not-visually-obvious shoulder condition and doing computer work without arm support hurts, a lot. I’d like to request an office chair with arms, but I don’t want to appear entitled or weak to my supervisor or colleagues. Do you have any suggestions?


Yes, I suggest that you explain your condition and ask for a chair with arms!

It’s hardly an extravagant request, and you are indeed “entitled” to get through your workday without being in pain.

I’m not sure I see the point of making all the interns sit on stools in the first place: Is it explicitly meant to underscore low office status? I hope your employer reacts by giving everyone a real chair.

For readers who may be curious about the legal context, there are two issues at play.

The first is whether a worker with such a condition could get an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In most situations the answer is yes, according to Carol Miaskoff, associate legal counsel at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“The limitations don’t have to be radical to be considered a disability,” she says, and company policy ought to enumerate details such as what sort of medical proof would be required.

Second, while this may vary by state or other circumstances, if you’re an unpaid intern you most likely don’t have the same rights as an employee. (This discrepancy is a much-debated topic at the moment, Ms. Miaskoff adds.)

Strictly speaking, however, I’d say none of that should be relevant in this case. There’s no need to invoke legislation; all you’re asking for is a chair.

Unless your fellow interns and your bosses are monsters, they won’t begrudge you this simple relief. And if I’m wrong about that, you don’t want to work for these people — so you might as well find out now.

Casual Office Chatter Gets a Colleague in Trouble. Now What?

An employee’s conversation about a colleague’s vacation accidentally put both of them in a sticky disciplinary situation. Here’s how to minimize the damage.

CreditMaria Nguyen

Send your workplace conundrums to workologist@nytimes.com, including your name and contact information (even if you want it withheld). The Workologist is a guy with well-intentioned opinions, not a professional career adviser. Letters may be edited.

I recently had a casual conversation with a co-worker about her upcoming vacation trip to Asia. I asked her if her flight was leaving at midnight, as such flights originating in our city often do. She said yes, and we talked more about where she would be staying and who was traveling with her. (She did not mention what night she was leaving.)

The next day, I told some others at the office that I was excited about our co-worker’s trip, and mentioned the midnight flight in passing. There was an assistant manager in this group, who promptly asked me to “write up” the conversation I’d had with my co-worker. It turns out she had called in sick that day — the day before her vacation technically began — and the assistant manager surmised that this was to accommodate the unusual flight schedule.

That’s probably right. But I was shocked because this was a casual conversation between me and a co-worker, and now I’m supposed to send an email about it so this manager can forward it to human resources. I find this unethical and against my personal values.

At the same time, it seems like insubordination if I don’t do it. Our management team frequently engages in retribution or retaliation. But I think it should have handled this itself without putting me in a difficult spot with another staff member.


Given management’s likely attitude here, your colleague didn’t handle this particularly well. Calling in sick the day before a vacation starts is not a cunning maneuver, and seems likely to raise a suspicious manager’s eyebrow no matter what the details.

I don’t really see why your company needs to involve you in whatever action it might pursue. It seems to me that this assistant manager could just write an email to human resources saying: “Here’s what another employee just told me.”

Probably the thinking is that enlisting you somehow makes a more convincing case. But this is shortsighted: It essentially pits employees against each other involuntarily, potentially adding needless tension to the workplace. It also, ultimately, discourages communication if you’re never sure what offhand remark might plunge you into somebody else’s drama.

So it’s too bad you’ve been dragged into this — and I understand you may feel guilty about perhaps getting a colleague in trouble by mistake. But it’s really not your fault.

Your best way out is to go minimal. Make the requested email terse: Your colleague told you about her vacation; you mostly discussed her plans at her destination, and in passing she indicated a certain flight time, although not a specific day. (Really, for all you know, she really was sick that day, and wasn’t flying until later. I don’t think you should get into speculating about that, but be clear about what you know and what you don’t.)

I think it would be fair to give your fellow employee a heads-up as soon after her return as you can. Just say what happened, and that you feel bad about it. Don’t speculate about implications or veer into passing judgment on management. Remember that you really don’t have all the facts. Who knows how this incident might relate to other issues your bosses may have with this colleague?

Don’t be hard on yourself. Your goal at this point is to extricate yourself from a situation you never sought in the first place.

CreditGracia Lam

Of course, empathy for the headphone wearer doesn’t solve any communication issues that may be occurring. But I like the spirit of this suggestion as a first step toward a lasting resolution.

I agree that, ultimately, the boss should put into effect whatever office policies are necessary to make sure work gets done. But the challenge of management isn’t simply getting people to obey your rules. It’s making sure your rules address relevant problems without creating new ones — such as embittering workers who might decide to seek a paycheck from a different, and more thoughtful, source.

Vocations: When a Colleague Takes a Parking Space for People With Disabilities

Two colleagues seem to be using parking spots they don’t deserve. But deciding whether to bring this up with management depends partly on sorting the facts from rumors — and dubious assumptions.

CreditMaria Nguyen

Send your workplace conundrums to workologist@nytimes.com, including your name and contact information (even if you want it withheld). The Workologist is a guy with well-intentioned opinions, not a professional career adviser. Letters may be edited.

At my office, there are two employees who park in parking spaces for people with disabilities on a daily basis. Both have placards hanging from their rearview mirrors.

One of the employees has revealed that the placard is for his daughter, but he uses it all the time, even when she isn’t with him. The other employee doesn’t appear to be disabled in any visible way, and talk around the office is that he abuses a space, too.

Both employees work in the same department. Is it fair to bring this matter to their boss’s attention?


The two cases you describe are actually distinct in important ways. I’ll address the latter first. Reporting a colleague to management based on unproven office scuttlebutt is rarely a good idea, and seems particularly inadvisable here. Just because someone doesn’t appear to have a disability doesn’t mean he or she might not qualify for a disabled parking permit.

At the federal level, the Americans with Disabilities Act sets a baseline for the availability of these spaces, and the Department of Transportation’s Uniform System for Parking for Persons with Disabilities lays out basic rules for who is eligible to use them, according to Rabia Belt, an assistant professor at Stanford Law School who focuses on disability and citizenship.

Certain cardiac, respiratory, arthritic or neurological conditions that limit someone’s mobility or ability to walk — even if they do so in ways that aren’t immediately visible — can easily qualify. (There could be additional qualifying conditions under state laws.)

Ms. Belt points out that an unfounded suspicion that lots of people take advantage of disability benefits by “faking it” is not uncommon. In fact, one of her graduate students is studying perceptions of “disability cons” for his dissertation.

“This can be a really big problem for people who do have disabilities,” Ms. Belt says. People with legitimate but not immediately visible disabilities get accusatory notes left on their cars, or are conspicuously photographed by apparently suspicious strangers in parking lots. And, she adds: “They have to deal with this gossip behind their back.”

In short, if you don’t actually know whether this colleague is misusing a permit, I’d say leave it alone.

But what about your colleague who, apparently, openly admits to a disability con? Well, if true, he’s definitely a jerk, and should be ashamed of himself. How would he feel if he took his daughter somewhere and couldn’t get the parking space she needed because all the spots for people with disabilities were taken up by cheaters like him?

Still, if you want to bring this to management’s attention, frame it as a management issue. Let’s say you yourself have a disability, and can’t use your space because of this guy. In that case, you should absolutely take action. Or if you believe other employees or visitors are similarly denied a space they deserve, that is also an issue management should legitimately want to know about.

Of course, you can also point this behavior out to the bosses because it just feels wrong and offensive: Even if he has never denied someone a space, he could, and that’s enough.

You just don’t want to come across as simply ratting out somebody who bugs you, or you’ll seem like a busybody and the problem may not be taken seriously. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t complain, you’re just better off reporting it as a company problem, not a personal one.

CreditGracia Lam

Bothered by Service Worker Language

I’m bothered by people I encounter in a variety of service jobs (like bank teller, waiter, cashier) who wish me to “Have a blessed day.”

I know they mean well, but I find this offensive. What would be an appropriate reply? Do you recommend advising the employer about this behavior? I wouldn’t name names or even identify a particular branch/location.


I think you’re right that these people mean well — and I’d try to focus on that.

It’s not clear to me how reporting the described behavior in such an abstract way would achieve anything. The more practical alternative would be to get specific: Report it directly to a manager, with the explicit threat of taking your business elsewhere.

Would that be worth it? Maybe if a bank teller (or whoever) followed up this anodyne statement with aggressive proselytizing, or demanded, “Don’t you want to wish me a blessed day?,” then you would do management a favor by pointing out that a front-line service worker seems to be prioritizing an agenda that isn’t the company’s — and likely alienating customers in the process.

It would also be worth complaining if you are truly offended and this is a matter of principle. That’s a personal decision, but if you’re going to do it, be direct.

If you’re really just irritated, then I think the most appropriate response, delivered in the strictly neutral tone of polite indifference that is at the very heart of what makes a marketplace work in a vibrantly diverse society, is: “Thanks.”

At Nike, Revolt Led by Women Leads to Exodus of Male Executives

Others who have departed include the head of diversity and inclusion, a vice president in footwear and a senior director for Nike’s basketball division.

It is a humbling setback for a company that is famous worldwide and has built its brand around the inspirational slogan “Just Do It.” While the #MeToo movement has led to the downfall of individual men, 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.

As women — and men — continue to come forward with complaints, Nike has begun a comprehensive review of its human resources operations, making management training mandatory and revising many of its internal reporting procedures.

While the departure of top executives has been covered in news accounts, new reporting by The New York Times, including interviews with more than 50 current and former employees, provides the most thorough account yet of how disaffection among women festered and left them feeling ignored, harassed and stymied in their careers. The Times also viewed copies of three complaints to human resources.

“I came to the realization that I, as a female, would not grow in that company,” said Francesca Krane, who worked for five years in Nike’s retail brand design area before leaving in 2016. She said she grew tired of watching men get promoted into jobs ahead of women she felt were equally or better qualified.

Many of those interviewed, across multiple divisions, also described a workplace environment that was demeaning to women. Three people, for instance, said they recalled times when male superiors referred to people using a vulgar term for women’s genitals. Another employee said that her boss threw his car keys at her and called her a “stupid bitch.” She reported the incident to human resources. (She told her sister about it at the time, the sister confirmed.) He continued to be her supervisor.

Most of the people who spoke to The Times insisted on anonymity, citing nondisclosure agreements or a fear of being ostracized in the industry, or in the Portland community, where Nike wields outsize influence. Some have spouses or family members still working there.

In response to questions, Nike portrayed its problems as being confined to “an insular group of high-level managers” who “protected each other and looked the other way.”

“That is not something we are going to tolerate,” said a spokesman, KeJuan Wilkins.

In a statement, Mr. Parker said the vast majority of Nike’s employees work hard to inspire and serve athletes throughout the world. “It has pained me to hear that there are pockets of our company where behaviors inconsistent with our values have prevented some employees from feeling respected and doing their best work,” he said.

For Amanda Shebiel, who left Nike in September after about five years at the company, the promise to address longstanding systemic problems is welcome, but late.

“Why did it take an anonymous survey to make change?” she asked. “Many of my peers and I reported incidences and a culture that were uncomfortable, disturbing, threatening, unfair, gender-biased and sexist — hoping that something would change that would make us believe in Nike again.”

“No one went just to complain,” Ms. Shebiel added. “We went to make it better.”


From left, Trevor Edwards, Nike’s former president; Jayme Martin, Mr. Edwards’s lieutenant, who oversaw much of Nike’s global business; and Mark Parker, the company’s chief executive.

From left, Johannes Simon/Getty Images; LinkedIn; Mike Lawrie, via Getty Images

An Inner Circle of Men

With a market value of about $112 billion and annual revenues of around $36 billion, Nike is a global behemoth in the athletic market, where its dominance went largely unchallenged for several decades.

But the company is facing significant business hurdles. Adidas, one of its biggest competitors, has gained ground in key markets like apparel and footwear. Nike is also struggling to get traction in women’s categories, the fastest-growing segment of the market.

Some of those interviewed by The Times said the weakness in women’s products in part reflected a lack of female leadership and an environment that favored male voices. Nike’s own research shows that women occupy nearly half the company’s work force but just 38 percent of positions of director or higher, and 29 percent of the vice presidents, according to an April 4 internal memo obtained by The Times.

And while Nike executives have told investors that the women’s category was a crucial part of its revenue growth strategy, former employees said it was not given the budget it needed to roll out the sophisticated marketing campaigns that were the hallmark of traditional men’s sports, like basketball.

When Nike did put money behind campaigns targeting women, it sometimes flailed.

Last year, Mr. Edwards, the former president, gave the green light for a marketing campaign for the fall launch of the VaporMax shoe for women; the female British singer FKA Twigs was given creative license for a shoot in Mexico City. The result, according a person who saw a rough cut of the commercial and another who saw the final cut, featured few shots of the shoes and instead had a woman twirling on what looked like a stripper pole and male athletes in sports bras striking odd poses. The campaign was killed, costing Nike millions of dollars.

Asked about the aborted campaign, Mr. Wilkins of Nike said the company was proud of its relationship with the singer. “We have a history of pushing the boundaries in marketing, just as we do in product development,” Mr. Wilkins said. “We create a lot of material that is not deployed in the marketplace.’’

Nike forcefully disputed the notion that women were not involved in the creative and marketing operations, noting that a female executive leads its women’s division. But Mr. Wilkins, the spokesman, acknowledged that, in areas like basketball, “there was more room and opportunity for the company to increase female representation in its senior positions.”

While women struggled to attain top positions at Nike, an inner circle of mostly male leaders emerged who had a direct line to Mr. Edwards. Within the company, as reported earlier in The Wall Street Journal, this group was known as F.O.T., or Friends of Trevor. They texted him in meetings or bragged about having lunch or dinner with him.

A charismatic and creative marketing force, the London-born Mr. Edwards joined Nike in 1992. He oversaw marketing in Europe in the late 1990s, before moving to the United States and taking over the brand in 2002. In 2013, he became Nike brand president.


A Nike executive whom Paige Azavedo and other women reported to human resources for berating them in front of their peers was promoted last year. This month, he was among the departures.

Kyle Johnson for The New York Times

Paige Azavedo recalls her first meeting in 2014 with her new boss, Daniel Tawiah, then a senior director for Nike’s digital brand in North America. She expected they would discuss digital marketing plans.

Instead, she was surprised when he talked mostly about himself and how Mr. Edwards had nominated him for a fast-track career program. “He basically said, I’ve been nominated to be in this V.P. program and that’s going to be my goal for the next six months to a year,” said Ms. Azavedo, who left Nike in 2015. “He made it clear he was a friend of Trevor.”

Multiple women, including Ms. Azavedo, told The Times they reported Mr. Tawiah to human resources for berating them in front of their peers, sometimes to the point of tears. He was promoted to vice president last year. This month, he was among those who abruptly departed.

Reached by telephone, Mr. Tawiah declined to comment. Mr. Wilkins declined to comment on the complaints against Mr. Tawiah or his departure.

Mr. Edwards, who resigned in March but is advising Mr. Parker until he retires in August, did not respond to an email or a message left on his LinkedIn profile. A representative for Mr. Martin declined to comment.

As men advanced more quickly into key roles in merchandising, design and marketing, a number of high-ranking women began to leave the company.

Among the first to depart, in the spring of 2017, was Patty Ross, a vice president of workplace design and connectivity who had started working at Nike when she was 16. She had also founded a women’s mentoring network inside Nike.

She was followed by Kerri Hoyt-Pack, a 15-year veteran of the company who had helped launch the Nike women’s brand. Then came Nikki Neuburger, a vice president in global brand marketing for running, who was a driving force behind the Nike+ app.

Ms. Ross declined to comment for this article. Ms. Hoyt-Pack and Ms. Neuburger did not respond to messages seeking comment.

When Ms. Neuburger left, she sent a pointed letter to Mr. Parker as well as other members of her team, laying out the reasons for her departure. They covered familiar themes, said one person who said she was read the letter: harassment, and the exclusion of women from the inner circle of decision makers.

“Nikki did write a letter,” Mr. Wilkins said. “It was thoughtful and professional. Mark took the letter very seriously and did meet with Nikki.”

Concerned about these departures, a group of women inside Nike started the behind-the-scenes survey that eventually ended up on Mr. Parker’s desk.


Banners outside the headquarters of Nike. While the #MeToo movement has led to the downfall of individual men, the kind of sweeping overhaul that is occurring at Nike is rare in the corporate world.

Natalie Behring/Getty Images

‘I Was Looking for Help’

The obstacles to advancement for women at Nike are not new and, in many ways, common in companies with male-dominated leadership. Since Nike’s early days in the 1960s, many employees have been guided by a simple ethos: work hard, party hard, get up for your five-mile run in the morning.

The culture that evolved could be belittling to women. On the way to a work dinner in Los Angeles, two senior men debated whether Los Angeles or Portland had better strip clubs, according to a person who attended, as the women traveling with them in the van stared out the windows.

One current employee said a supervisor pushed his way into a bathroom and tried to kiss her, according to a copy of her complaint that was viewed by The Times.

Over time, many women developed a deep skepticism of Nike’s human resources services. Some avoided the department altogether, fearing retribution or convinced that nothing would happen. Those who did seek help said they often came away frustrated.

“I was looking for help and they just totally shut it down, like ‘You’re the problem,’” said Marie Yates, a former retail designer, who said she went to human resources seeking help with issues she was having with a manager. She left the company in 2016.

A senior manager who mentioned a female employee’s breasts in an email was not terminated, but rather given a verbal warning, according to a former staff member in the human resources department.

In one complaint reviewed by The Times, a woman described her manager bragging about the condoms he always carried and the magazines he kept on his desk with scantily clad women on the covers, despite being told to remove them. She reported him to human resources, and was told she had made a mistake by not confronting him first, she said.

Until last year, human resources was run by David Ayre, who was hired in 2007 by Nike from PepsiCo and reported directly to Mr. Parker.

Mr. Ayre did not return phone and email messages seeking comment.

Complaints were sometimes handled casually. The employee whose supervisor tried to kiss her in the bathroom set up a meeting with human resources to discuss it, and was taken aback when she was told to meet her representative in the Mia Hamm cafe — a public space on Nike’s sprawling campus.

Amber Amin said her manager routinely belittled her with sexist and dismissive comments but still worried about what would happen if she reported him.

“I think his general attitude toward women was just, subtly, that we were less capable,” said Ms. Amin, a junior designer on one of the Nike apps, who added that she had received positive performance reviews since becoming an employee in 2014.

She eventually sought help from human resources, which told her that corrective action would be taken. Two days later, she was part of a round of layoffs.

Mr. Wilkins said Nike has a no-retribution policy that it takes seriously and noted that there was a significant reorganization of the work force last year.

The callousness that some women experienced extended at times to the work force at large, employees said. By the summer of 2016, for instance, Nike had decided to stop making golf balls, golf clubs and other equipment. Members of the division were summoned to a meeting inside the Clubhouse, the nickname for one of Nike’s buildings.

There, horrified employees watched their names appear on a large screen, directing them to different rooms, where some would be laid off, according to one person who attended the meeting and two people who were told of it. The person said it left employees with the impression they were being let go via PowerPoint presentation.

Asked about those layoffs, Mr. Wilkins said, “That’s absolutely not normal practice for us,” and suggested the situation was more nuanced than it appeared. In layoff situations, he said, “we make great efforts to treat every employee in a very thoughtful manner.”

Regarding complaints to human resources, Mr. Wilkins said: “We’re not going to comment on individual cases, but cases are often more complicated than simply listening to one side of the story.”

While Nike believes it has a set of human resources procedures installed, those systems “have not worked consistently,” Mr. Wilkins said. “As Mark has said, we are currently reviewing and improving our practices to re-establish trust where it has been lacking and to guard against this happening in the future.”


In women’s products, Nike “is growing in the low single digits, which means it is a long way away from where it wants to be,” said Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst at the NPD Group.

Kyle Johnson for The New York Times

Pressure on Chief Executive

Nike’s goals would have been hard to achieve even before the recent departure of high-level executives. In October 2015, Mr. Parker announced an ambitious target: By 2020, Nike would reach $50 billion in annual revenues. But last fall the company pushed the target date to 2022.

And while Nike’s stock has climbed 25 percent in the past year, its revenues for the first nine months of its current fiscal year grew by only 4 percent, with North American sales dipping in crucial areas, like footwear.

In women’s products, Nike “is growing in the low single digits, which means it is a long way away from where it wants to be,” said Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst at the NPD Group. Companies like Lululemon and even Old Navy are finding greater success in the women’s sportswear market, Mr. Powell said.

For now, Mr. Edwards’s duties have been split between two other executives. Nike recently named a woman, Kellie Leonard, as chief diversity and inclusion officer, and Mr. Wilkins said Nike is focused “on attracting, developing and elevating both women and people of color throughout the organization.’’

It now falls to Mr. Parker, 62, to move Nike forward. A quiet executive who designed several of Nike’s running shoes, Mr. Parker has been the company’s chief executive since 2006. He appeared to solidify his control over the company’s operations around 2015 when Nike’s co-founder Phil Knight stepped down as company chairman.

But given the recent tumult at Nike, Mr. Parker may face tough questions himself. At least a dozen current and former employees told The Times they could not see how Mr. Parker was not aware of the problems with his top leaders. What is unclear, some said, is whether information was deliberately kept from Mr. Parker.

As he did with other executives who reported directly to him, Mr. Parker met regularly with Mr. Ayre when he was the head of human resources to discuss, among other things, any active investigations of suspected employee misconduct, Mr. Wilkins said.

When appropriate, he said, action was taken. But with 74,000 employees, Mr. Wilkins said, “Mark would not have been aware of all issues.”

That explanation did not satisfy Ms. Shebiel, the former employee who left in September.

If Mr. Parker did not know, she said, “it negates the times over the years my peers and I sought support and counsel from the people we were told we could trust to bring about change.”

Ms. Shebiel said she and her colleagues risked or experienced retaliation “for shining a light on both significant and everyday experiences that left us feeling bullied, uncomfortable and intimidated.”

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Harassment at WNYC Was Not ‘Systemic,’ Says Report


A report on the workplace culture at WNYC said the station’s head, Laura R. Walker, had not been aware of harassment and bullying.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

An investigation into the workplace culture of New York Public Radio and its flagship station WNYC found that incidents of bullying and harassment were not reported to senior managers, in part because of fear of reprisals, a lack of confidence in how reports would be handled, and the perception that the station’s stars were “untouchable.”

But the investigation did not find “systemic discrimination” that was known to, and tolerated by, senior management. The investigation also largely absolved Laura R. Walker, the president and chief executive of New York Public Radio, who acknowledged last year that she had “prioritized growth, and content and programming, over investment in some of the processes and people.”

Instead, the investigation focuses on the station’s human resources department and recommends steps familiar to many workplaces grappling with the #MeToo movement, such as adding training for managers and creating an anti-bullying policy.

“NYPR needs to build a level of confidence that it is intent on fostering and preserving a respectful work environment and that all employees — even ‘stars’ — are held to that standard, and that no one will suffer adverse consequences for alerting NYPR to inappropriate conduct,” the report says.

[Read the report here.]

The investigation was conducted by the law firm of Proskauer Rose at the behest of the station’s board of trustees and released Tuesday afternoon. The station was holding an all-staff meeting at its offices in Lower Manhattan to discuss it.

The issues at WNYC exploded into the open last year, when the writer Suki Kim described her experiences at the station, as well as those of other women, for New York magazine, writing that John Hockenberry, the former host of “The Takeaway,” had harassed her after her appearance as a guest. A subsequent probe conducted by the newsroom revealed additional cases, as well as management’s awareness of myriad problems with “The Takeaway.”

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Corporate Security, Easily Sidestepped, Seeks Stronger Shields

But the risk is not confined to the tech sector. Many companies across the country are similarly exposed, reflecting an open-door policy that for generations has pervaded corporate America, where safety training has long focused on fire drills, earthquake-sheltering procedures and accident cleanup.

Some of that trust has eroded over the years. After the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, companies fearing terrorist bombings and biochemical attacks taught employees how to handle suspicious packages. But a sharp increase in mass shootings over the past two decades has made companies increasingly nervous about gun violence from disgruntled workers and customers.

Last year, an employee fatally shot three people at the United Parcel Service complex in San Francisco. In 2016, an employee fatally shot three colleagues and injured 14 more at a lawn care equipment factory in Kansas. In 2012, a man shot seven people and himself at a Minneapolis sign company hours after he was fired.

“I just don’t know how we got here,” said James D. Smith, president of the American Society of Safety Engineers. “We would never be thinking 10, 15 years ago that this would be an issue.”

On Tuesday, Nasim Najafi Aghdam, a YouTube user upset about the company’s policies, shot three people at the company’s headquarters before killing herself, police said.

Ms. Aghdam shot the people in an enclosed courtyard where employees dined. YouTube said she had entered the courtyard through a parking garage. The gate between the parking garage and the courtyard was unlocked, according to Zach Vorhies, an engineer at YouTube. A former YouTube employee who used to handle threats from disgruntled video creators, but was not allowed to speak about it publicly, said his team repeatedly warned YouTube security about the risk of the parking garage and unlocked gate, but it was never fixed.

YouTube said in a statement on Wednesday that Ms. Aghdam never entered the building itself thanks to other security protections. The company said it was “revisiting this incident in detail” and would be increasing security at all of its offices around the world.

The F.B.I. identified 160 so-called active-shooter incidents in the United States between 2000 and 2013, which left 486 people dead and 557 wounded. Nearly 46 percent of the attacks took place in commercial locations. Dozens of other attacks have occurred since 2013.

Where Active Shootings Occur

An F.B.I. study found that nearly half of 160 active-shooting incidents over more than a decade occurred in business settings.

Businesses Open to Public

Elementary to High Schools

Higher Education Facilities

Workplace shootings have fueled a cottage industry of security consultants who show employees how to manage panic, when to run or hide, and how to fight as a last resort. Lesson plans identify which filing cabinets or furniture offer the best protection, and which office tools can become improvised weapons. A full day of training can cost companies thousands of dollars.

Companies are sending their employees to self-defense classes and their security personnel to gun ranges to test active-shooter scenarios in virtual reality. Architects are designing offices with designated safe rooms. Insurance providers are offering lower premiums for corporate clients with stronger security.

“If you can’t protect the work force, you’re putting your entire operation at risk,” said Arnette Heintze, a former Secret Service agent who runs the security consulting firm Hillard Heintze, which posted record revenue in the most recent quarter.

At Apple’s new campus in Cupertino, Calif., visitors are required to enter through a single, guarded entrance. The headquarters has a massive courtyard but it requires someone to pass through the building to reach it.

One former Facebook employee who worked on the company’s security protocols, who declined to be named because of Facebook’s prohibition on discussing internal company matters, said the company received dozens of threats a week.

In recent years, Facebook has increased security at the entrances to its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., but its parking lots and surrounding areas remain accessible. “The safety of our employees is paramount, and we work hard every day to maintain a safe and secure environment for our community,” Jamil Walker, a Facebook spokesman, said in an email.

Facebook could soon find security trickier. It has proposed expanding into a nearby neighborhood, with housing and public space for local residents alongside its offices.

Some security experts instruct clients to shift their parking lots further away from the main facility, giving more time for potential attackers to have second thoughts and for guards to act on a threat. Consultants recommend that executive offices remain unlabeled to make them less of a target.

Companies of all kinds have stepped up security. General Mills said it made physical changes to its building in Minneapolis to better prepare for an active shooter situation, but did not provide specifics. Wendy’s said it had installed upgraded security cameras throughout its headquarters in Dublin, Ohio; set up advanced access control systems that can lock down different parts of the facility; and upgraded its phone systems with emergency messaging capabilities.

Hallmark and Hershey said they show employees a training video from the Center for Personal Protection and Safety that covers active shooter protocol. Some companies use a softer term — “hostile intruder” — to describe the training, while others add customized introductions to the footage.

Employees are being asked to download internal apps loaded with safety plans, maps and emergency alerts. Some are told that their bonuses will be withheld if they do not attend mandatory drills.

And preventive tactics are gaining traction. Employers are hiring social media trackers and data analysts to search for warning signs in employee behavior. Accenture said it has a behavioral threat assessment team made up of human resources representatives, lawyers, on-call psychologists and others.

But security remains a matter of balance.

“You don’t want a security program so restrictive that it hinders the company from doing the business it’s in,” Mr. Heintze said.

And vulnerabilities remain common, security consultants said. So-called penetration tests frequently show how easily an outsider can slip into an office through the employee smoking area, past an unmonitored camera, into a door held open by a polite employee, or through a metal detector being overseen by an underpaid and overworked security contractor.

Employees looking for convenience tend to prop open automatically locking doors. Some will pass a badge over a turnstile to a friend who forgot theirs.

One corporate client described its facility to John M. White, the chief executive of the Protection Management security consulting firm, as being fully secure. Within three hours, Mr. White found that he could waltz through most of the building’s doors without being screened and that some were so old they would not lock.

Another customer spent several hundred thousand dollars installing security cameras, only to find that their views were obstructed. Mr. White said he has spoken to employees who, in a theoretical attack, said they would be unwilling to break a window to escape out of fear of being fired later.

“You can’t just throw a million dollars at security and say that now the problem’s gone,” he said. “In some ways, it can be a facade — you could have the most secure facility in the world, and there will still be some risks you’re going to have to accept and manage.”

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My Workout: Sweetgreen’s Jonathan Neman on Ditching His Car and Phone

No Car, No Problem

I live about 20 minutes from work and I either Uber or my wife, who is a writer and works at a WeWork nearby, will drop me off. I don’t have a car. We do share the car on the weekends, but going back and forth to work, it’s nice to not have to worry about it.

Also it’s a really productive time for me. I might catch up on phone calls. Or I’m into podcasts recently. I’ve been into “Masters of Scale” — Reid Hoffman started it — because it’s really inspiring. It gets me fired up on the way to work.


Mr. Neman at the Sweetgreen test kitchen.

Adam Amengual for The New York Times

Office Culture

Our office is in this complex called Platform, and there are a lot of other start-ups here. Blue Bottle is right next to us so I’ll grab a coffee before I go in. The three founders, we still share an office. What’s really special is how we work together. We’ve been working together for 11 years as best friends and partners. It works because there is true friendship there and love and lack of ego.

Our original headquarters was in D.C., but we’re all based in L.A. now. We relocated because most of our growth is coming from here, our suppliers are mostly here, and we wanted to be on the front lines.

Prep Work

I like to have a little bit of time in the morning to prep my thoughts. The night before, I write a list of what needs to be done the next day. I always take a step back and look to see what it is that I want to lead the company through today, this week or this month. What’s the thing that’s really going to move the needle?

My dad, who immigrated to the U.S. in the late ’70s from Iran because of the revolution, is one of my work mentors. He had to start over and support his family. One thing I got from him is that the work is never done.


Mr. Neman shares his office with Nathaniel Ru, a founder of Sweetgreen.

Adam Amengual for The New York Times

Skipping Meals

I don’t eat anything in the morning. I just have my coffee. Intermittent fasting keeps me very energized. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid, but it’s become more of a thing now. I also eat a very big dinner so I feel like I’m still digesting it the next day.

I do eat an early lunch. I go to the test kitchen we have here and see what the chef is cooking up. I stay at the office pretty late so I’m not home until about 9 p.m. I’ve been cooking a lot more at home lately, but it’s also a highlight when we get to go try somewhere fun for dinner, usually on the West Side.

Reading List

I just finished “Onward” by Howard Schultz — it’s really interesting and still relevant now — and I just began “Principles” by Ray Dalio. I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from outside of our industry. It’s about looking at other business models and brands and thinking, “How can we apply that here?” For example, I’ve been really interested in Disney. This brand has lasted so long and stayed culturally relevant. It starts with this creative spirit layered with storytelling and magic and the ability to innovate and evolve over time.

Family First

I’m Persian Jewish and I have a huge family. I’m the oldest of four boys, and I have 20 first cousins. My wife — we got married last June — has a similar family situation. Every Friday night we have Shabbat. That’s a big part of our life.

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