Eitel graduated from McGill University in Quebec in 1983 with a B.A. in Communications and French, and later earned a master's degree in Foreign Service at Georgetown University in 1988. In 2001, she completed the Stanford Business School Executive Programme. She holds an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Babson College.
Eitel began her career as a journalist, and later progressed to become Deputy Director of Media Affairs at the White House. In 1992 she was appointed to the role of Special Assistant to the President George H.W. Bush.
In 1996, Life Magazine published an article implicating Nike in the use of child labor in Pakistan. Following the findings, Nike hired Eitel as the first Vice President of Corporate Responsibility.
Nike Foundation and The Girl Effect
In 2004, Eitel became founding President of the Nike Foundation.
After a year exploring the Foundation's potential focus, a girl in Ethiopia inspired her to focus the Foundation exclusively on adolescent girls in developing countries. Eitel is credited with creating the theory "The Girl Effect" - based on the idea that adolescent girls have the unique potential to stop poverty before it starts. Eitel leads the Foundation's efforts to put girls on the global agenda with the goal of eradicating global poverty.
Since taking on the role at Nike, Eitel has become a recognized voice on gender equality, featuring in Fast Company's League of Extraordinary Women. President Barack Obama praised her passion "for engaging and mobilizing citizens in social change." 
Eitel has worked with numerous partners to support the work of the Nike Foundation, including the Novo Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative. To support the Girl Effect, actress Anne Hathaway traveled to Africa with Eitel in 2011. Eitel was recently referenced in an article  in which Yulín Cruz—the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico—referenced her role models for female leadership. Mayor Cruz said that she has taken inspiration from this quote from Maria Eitel, "Coming from a position of fear, of not succeeding, losing your job or not being admired handicaps the potential of your career. I’ve never let fear of losing my job keep me from doing something I knew was the right thing to do."
In October 2017, following the fallout from the Harvey Weinstein scandal and #metoo, Eitel began moderating the first discussions that led to the formation of Time’s Up. Of the meetings, Eitel was quoted in the New York Times as saying, "people were moved so viscerally. They didn’t come together because they wanted to whine, or complain, or tell a story or bemoan. They came together because they intended to act. There was almost a ferociousness to it, especially in the first meetings."
On December 15, 2017, Eitel joined with Kathleen Kennedy, Nina Shaw, and Freada Kapor Klein to create the creation of Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace. The commission’s stated goal is to "tackle the broad culture of abuse and power disparity." It is led by Anita Hill.
On January 1, 2018, Time’s Up unveiled an action plan supported by 300 prominent actresses, female agents, writers, directors, producers and entertainment executives. The initiative includes a legal defense fund backed by $16 million in donations, a plan to introduce legislation to penalize companies that tolerate harassment and discourage the use of non-disclosure agreements, and a drive to reach gender parity at studios. It also requested that women wear black to the 75th Golden Globes Awards.
She was a signatory of an open letter that Time’s Up published on January 1, 2018 in the New York Times and Spanish-language paper La Opinión in response to a letter of support from the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (National Alliance of Female Farmworkers).
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