Nike received backlash recently for its pregnancy policy regarding its professional relationships with athletes. The backlash from athletes such as Alysia Montaño, Kara Goucher, Phoebe Wright and Allyson Felix prompted the company to rethink its policies regarding pregnant athletes in the future. The new policy regarding pregnant athletes that receive sponsorships from Nike would remove room for the company to financially penalize them if they chose to have children. The changes will be made to existing contracts and will allow for changes to the athletes performance if she becomes pregnant. Still, though, employees at Nike are finding that the playing field between male and female workers is not even, as women within the company have reported issues with harassment and other problems.

Criticism From Nike Sponsored Athletes

Previously, Nike would financially penalize sponsored athletes who became pregnant if their duties as a sponsored athlete fell short of expectation. Because of this, female athletes who chose to have children were often considered to be at the end of their career paths. This pushed female athletes into making choices like not having children in order to keep their careers, or losing out on sponsorship money from Nike simply because they chose to have children. In the case of Allyson Felix, an Olympic Gold Medal winning runner, the pregnancy penalties meant forcing herself to get back on the track before her body was ready.

“Despite all my victories, Nike wanted to pay me 70 percent less than before. If that’s what they think I’m worth now, I accept that,” Felix wrote in a letter to the New York Times describing her experience re-negotiating her contract with Nike after her pregnancy. Nondisclosure agreements previously scared these women into not speaking up against the company, but a New York Times investigation saw athletes like Felix breaking their agreements to speak up for themselves. “What I’m not willing to accept is the enduring status quo around maternity. I asked Nike to contractually guarantee that I wouldn’t be punished if I didn’t perform at my best in the months surrounding childbirth. I wanted to set a new standard. If I, one of Nike’s most widely marketed athletes, couldn’t secure these protections, who could?” Felix continued in the open letter.

New Contract Details For Pregnancies

After open letters from Felix and the other athletes were published in the New York Times, Nike took action and made long-awaited changes to its contracts that previously made no room for pregnancy within its sponsorship programs. Where women would previously have to forego motherhood in effort to maintain their careers, there would now be room for performance changes due to pregnancy. In a company-wide memo written by Nike’s Vice President Amy Montagne, it was revealed that Nike will be changing its pregnancy policies for its sponsored athletes. The company will be removing its requirements that athlete performance must stay the same for up to 12 months following the athletes pregnancy.

“Moving forward, we are also committed to including written terms reinforcing this policy in all our contracts with female athletes,” Montagne said in the memo, which was first reported by Bloomberg.