For Nike-sponsored athletes, getting pregnant can come at a cost. The sportswear giant has faced criticism for failing to guarantee female athletes a salary in the months surrounding childbirth.
Now that several athletes have spoken out against the practices, Nike is changing its rules. According to Sports Illustrated, Nike has agreed to no longer apply performance-related reductions in contracts for 18 consecutive months, from the very start of the pregnancy, and Nike cannot terminate an athlete’s contract even if she has decided not to compete due to pregnancy.
In May, Olympic runner Alysia Montaño wrote an op-ed in the New York Times arguing that it was hypocritical for Nike to use empowering language in its advertising, like “Just Do It” and “Dream Crazy,” while simultaneously punishing elite athletes for choosing to start families. Athletes like her are not paid by a salary by a league, so their compensation often comes from sponsorship agreements. Until recently, it was common for Nike to cancel or reduce contracts for female athletes who were pregnant, effectively removing their main source of income.
Nike has been reckoning with broader accusations of misogyny throughout the company for more than a year. Last year, the New York Times published a story, featuring interviews with many former and current female employees who complained about sexual harassment and pay inequities. This led to the departure of several prominent male executives credibly accused of sexual impropriety. Nike also created new policies designed to close the gender pay gap in its salary scales. Nike had not proactively applied these policies to the female athletes it sponsored.
In a statement sent to Fast Company and other media outlets, Nike said: “Female athletes and their representatives will begin receiving written confirmation reaffirming Nike’s official pregnancy policy for elite athletes. In addition to our 2018 policy standardizing our approach across all sports to ensure no female athlete is adversely impacted financially for pregnancy, the policy has now been expanded to cover 18 months.”