For Equal Pay Day, Venus Williams Reminds Us 'Sexism Isn't a Women's Issue Any More Than Racism Is a Black Issue'

Illustration for article titled For Equal Pay Day, Venus Williams Reminds Us 'Sexism Isn't a Women's Issue Any More Than Racism Is a Black Issue'
Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea (Getty Images)

Venus Williams has earned her way to be one of the most privileged women in tennis (if not the world)—but even her privilege didn’t always add up to equal earnings. As the tennis legend wrote in an op-ed for British Vogue timed in tandem with Women’s Equal Pay Day on March 24, her own battle to close the gender pay gap in tennis paralleled that of women everywhere, who, on average, make 82 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts.

Advertisement

“When I won Wimbledon for the first time in 2000, the men’s singles champion received £477,500 while the women’s singles champion earned £430,000,” Williams recalls. “From then on, I felt compelled to campaign for equality for women.”

As Williams notes, that battle didn’t begin with her but began raging in tennis when the sport became fully professional in the late ’60s. It was pioneer Billie Jean King who also spearheaded the conversation around equality throughout the sport, not only playing in the famed “Battle of the Sexes,” but forming the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to give voice and collective strength to women tennis players globally. Still, it would take 39 years to achieve parity in prize money for women players, with Williams becoming the first to do so in 2007—upon her fourth Wimbledon championship.

“I firmly believe that sport mirrors life and life mirrors sport,” she now writes. “The lack of equality and equal opportunities in tennis is a symptom of the obstacles women face around the world,”

Williams’ argument is supported by grim statistics amid the ongoing pandemic. In 2019, a World Economic Forum study estimated that it would take approximately 257 years to close the pay gap. An October 2020 report between The Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress revealed that the disproportionate impact of the pandemic upon women—who have been forced out of the workforce at four times the rate of their male counterparts—could set progress back another generation unless drastic actions are taken.

“Closing the economic gender gap requires action at a national and international level as well as corporate,” Williams writes, adding:

Some fixes can be implemented more quickly than others. For a start, while women are often underrepresented in senior positions in firms, they are overrepresented in low-paying jobs so increasing the minimum wage is a priority. Then there’s the urgent need for transparency; if women don’t know they aren’t being paid fairly, how can they do anything about it? Childcare and medical leave also need to be expanded to create equal opportunities for women as they are more likely to take time off work to look after their family.

Advertisement

And just like the calls for racial justice, the injustice on gender pay disparity isn’t women’s job to fix, posits Williams. “Sexism isn’t a women’s issue any more than racism is a Black issue,” she says. “Men need to understand gender equality is about equal opportunities for women rather than men relinquishing power.”

Most importantly, it benefits everyone’s bottom line. With women still assuming the brunt of childcare responsibilities, and Black women more likely to also be heads of the household but even further behind in equal pay (62 cents on the dollar, to date), one thing is clear, says the tennis champion: “When women are doing well, the family does well and so does the economy—we all win”

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?

DISCUSSION

Makes Me Wonder Why I Even Bring The Thunder

As we try to correct this, it’s worth noting complicating factors and knock-on effects, for instance the fact that most Americans pay for their medical expenses through https://www.nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Employer%20Sponsored%20Insurance.pdf

Most women in the United States get their health insurance through an employer. In 2007, nearly two-thirds of women aged 18 to 64—over 61 million women in total—received health benefits through their own (61 percent) or a family member’s (39 percent) employer.

Gender Rating. Insurance companies in most states are allowed to use the gender make-up of a small business as a rating factor when determining how much to charge for health coverage. Under the premise that women have higher hospital and physicians’ costs than men, insurers may charge small firms more for health coverage if they have a predominantly female workforce. From the employee’s perspective, this disparity may not be apparent, since employment discrimination laws prohibit an employer from charging male and female employees within a firm different rates for their ESI.

While state and federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit most small businesses from charging male and female employees different premiums, gender rating in the small group insurance market can be an insurmountable obstacle to affording health coverage for a small firm with a disproportionately female workforce. If the overall premium is not affordable, a small business may forgo offering coverage to workers altogether, or shift a greater share of health insurance costs to employees.