Nike's first-ever chief diversity and inclusion officer departs

Human resources VP & former Tesla exec Felicia Mayo replaces Kellie Leonard

After only two years on the job, Nike's first-ever chief diversity and inclusion officer Kellie Leonard has decided to "leave the company to pursue other interests."

The athletic apparel giant announced that Felicia Mayo, the company's vice president of human resources and a former Tesla executive, would replace Leonard. At Tesla, Mayo served as head of diversity before joining Nike last year.

An 18-year veteran of the company, Leonard played "a significant role in communications at Nike both as VP for North America and as the VP for Global Corporate and Employee Communications" as well the diversity role stated a Nike spokesperson, "We thank Kellie for her many contributions to the brand and her leadership within the company.”

In an internal email to employees Monday obtained by the Financial Times, Nike's chief executive John Donahoe said the move is part of  "a structural shift" to allow for "more meaningful change, focusing on equal access to opportunity for all.”

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Donahoe said in a letter to staff in June that “many have felt a disconnect between our external brand and your internal experience."

"You have told me that we have not consistently supported, recognised and celebrated our own black teammates in a manner they deserve," he added. "This needs to change.”

Leonard took on the newly-created role in the spring of 2018 as the company grappled with complaints from employees about a boys’ club culture outlined in a New York Times expose alleging misconduct by several top male executives, including former Nike president Trevor Edwards.

One complaint accused Edwards of reportedly approving an advertising campaign that was later killed for the launch of the VaporMax shoe for women featuring British singer FKA Twigs. The advertisement featured a woman twirling on a stripper pole and male athletes in sports bras.

The report also alleged that members of Nike's human resources department were too casual about discussing complaints with employees, with one HR representive asking an employee to discuss a complaint, in which the employee's supervisor tried to kiss her in the bathroom, at the Mia Hamm cafe, an open space on the Nike campus.

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Since that report, diveristy and includsion have become front and center issues at companies across America. Nike, known for its  "Just Do It" slogan has been trying to address these issues in a very public way.

Nike has stood firmly in the corner of NFL quarterback turned activist Colin Kaepernick, whose kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and inequality sparked a national debate. The one-time San Francisco 49ers star has been part of several Nike advertising and social media campaigns.

In response to the recent killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, Nike pledged to invest $40 million over four years to support organizations focused on social justice, education and racial inequality across the country.

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However, like most businesses, Nike has been subject to the challenges retail faces during the coronavirus pandemic. The company announced plans last week to spend between $200 million to $250 million in one-time costs associated with layoffs this summer as the company restructures.

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An earlier version of this story stated that Kellie Leonard also oversaw investor relations at one time for Nike. This was not one of her areas of responsibility during her 18 years with the company.