When Sonja Henning, Nike VP, NA League Partnerships, graduated from Stanford University in 1991 and was named Pac-10 Player of the Year, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) did not exist. She took a break from school, played basketball in Sweden for one season, then returned to the U.S. to attend law school at Duke University. She honestly didn’t expect to play professional basketball again.
In 1996, the star point guard jumped at the opportunity to squeeze in some more court time and joined a pro league in the United States. Three years later, Henning was drafted into the WNBA, where she ended up playing five seasons (with four different teams), helping the Houston Comets win a championship and serving as president of the WNBA Players Union before retiring in 2004. Joining Nike in 2007, Henning set the stage for the next chapter of her career.
“Prior to landing at Nike, I understood the importance of a team. And how a successful team requires many things, including individual sacrifice, common goals, an acceptance of roles and a commitment to each other’s success and constant growth and improvement — all traits needed for success in the corporate world.”
As exemplified by Henning, there is a clear through line between what makes a great athlete and what makes a great employee, but all too often female athletes struggle with the transition from court to career.
Easing that transition is the impetus for Women in Nike (WIN). A partnership with the WNBA, the two-year program, launched in 2019, is designed to provide relevant and dynamic work experience for retired or retiring WNBA players — and to help build the next generation of talent at Nike.
“The WIN program is one of the critical programs leading to a more diverse, equitable and inclusive Nike,” says Henning. “We know that Nike’s future success is rooted in the strength of our diverse, inclusive and equitable teams. Hiring talented professional female athletes provides us with a distinct competitive advantage, and we are industry leaders in this space.”
The first cohort of 11 WIN fellows began the program in April 2019, working across various business disciplines at Nike, while also receiving a robust professional development curriculum, dedicated mentors and educational opportunities to support them along the way.
The 2019 Class
“Cohort 1 is an outstanding group of women from diverse backgrounds and professional experiences. These women, as a group, have thrived at Nike. They’ve immediately contributed to their teams’ success and provided immeasurable value to Nike as a whole,” says Henning.
During the course of the last year and a half, these fellows have clearly embodied the voice of the athlete and used their insights to drive positive impact across the company, paving the way for renewal and expansion. Earlier this fall, a second cohort of 15 athletes began in roles across the NIKE, Inc. portfolio of Nike, Converse and Jordan.
The 2020 Class
“Being a WNBA athlete requires an individual to be team-oriented, results-focused and self-aware, which are all characteristics you need to succeed professionally — without the hard work, opportunities will pass you by,” says Henning.
At Nike, we believe diversity fosters creativity and accelerates innovation. In order for us to grow and evolve as a company, we need the best and the brightest to help us incorporate the voice, knowledge and perspectives of athletes into everything we do. If you love sport like we do, learn more about all of our talent-building programs here, and come build the future with us.