Women Empowerment: Serena Williams and Black Women’s Equal Pay Day
Yesterday was Black Women’s Equal Pay Day – a day calling attention to the fact that the gender pay gap hits women of color the hardest. Black women are an astounding 37 cents behind men in the pay gap—for every dollar a man makes, black women make only 63 cents! We wanted to post this on the actual Black Women’s Equal Pay Day but we ran into some technical difficulties so today we honor all women of color who, on average, have to work eight months longer per year to earn the same as their male counterparts, earn 17% less than their white female counterparts, and are even paid less at entry level with graduate degrees! In particular we are turning our women empowerment lens on Serena Williams, the renowned female tennis player who has overcome the gender and racial pay gap by kicking butt on and off the tennis court for over 15 years!
With 39 Grand Slam titles, Williams is ranked third on the all-time list and is regarded by many as the greatest female tennis player of all time. In 2016 she was named the highest paid female athlete by Forbes, overtaking rival Maria Sharapova who held the title for 11 years. And in 2015 she became only the second woman in history to be named Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year.
Besides being a superstar on the tennis court, Williams is also a savvy businesswomen who has leveraged her athletic talents and earnings to buy part-ownership in the NFL football team the Miami Dolphins (the first African-American women to hold any amount of ownership in an NFL franchise), as well as launch her fashion line Aneres and a nail polish collection, among numerous other business endeavors.
An avid supporter of women empowerment, we were inspired by the words below which Williams wrote in an article posted on Fortune.com today in support of Black Women’s Equal Pay Day,
“Together, we will change the story—but we are going to have to fight for every penny.
Growing up, I was told I couldn’t accomplish my dreams because I was a woman and, more so, because of the color of my skin. In every stage of my life, I’ve had to learn to stand up for myself and speak out. I have been treated unfairly, I’ve been disrespected by my male colleagues and—in the most painful times—I’ve been the subject of racist remarks on and off the tennis court. Luckily, I am blessed with an inner drive and a support system of family and friends that encourage me to move forward. But these injustices still hurt.
I am in the rare position to be financially successful beyond my imagination. I had talent, I worked like crazy and I was lucky enough to break through. But today isn’t about me. It’s about the other 24 million black women in America. If I never picked up a tennis racket, I would be one of them; that is never lost on me.
The cycles of poverty, discrimination, and sexism are much, much harder to break than the record for Grand Slam titles. For every black woman that rises through the ranks to a position of power, there are too many others who are still struggling. Most black women across our country do not have the same support that I did, and so they often don’t speak out about what is just, fair and appropriate in the workplace. When they do, they are often punished for it.
Unfair pay has prevailed for far too long with no consequence. Through decades of systematic oppression, black women have been conditioned to think they are less than. In many cases, these women are the heads of households. Single mothers. The issue isn’t just that black women hold lower-paying jobs. They earn less even in fields of technology, finance, entertainment, law, and medicine.
Changing the status quo will take dedicated action, legislation, employer recognition, and courage for employees to demand more. In short, it’s going to take all of us. Men, women, of all colors, races and creeds to realize this is an injustice. And an injustice to one is an injustice to all.
The first step in making a change is recognition. We need to push this issue to the front of conversations so that employers across the U.S. can truly understand that all male and female employees must be compensated equally. Not close. Not almost the same. Equally.”
Born in Saginaw, Michigan in 1981, Williams is the youngest of five girls, 3 half sisters and one full sister, fellow tennis star Venus. Williams began playing tennis at the age of 3 shortly after her family moved to Compton, California. Officially coached by her father, Richard, and mother, Oracene, Williams was also supported by many other mentors along her path to fame. At the age of 9, her family moved from Compton to West Palm Beach, Florida, so she could attend Rick Macci’s well-known tennis academy. In 1999 at the young age of 18 Williams won her first US Open and the rest is history!
Hard work and determination are at the root of Williams success, on her site she says, “Ever since I was a little girl, my dream was to be the best tennis player in the world. Luck has nothing to do with being good at the sport. I have spent many, many hours… countless hours… on the court working for my one moment in time, not knowing when it would come but believing that it would.”
During her career, Williams has partnered with many top name brands such as Puma, Nike, Gatorade, Audemara Piguet, Pepsi, among others, and in 2015 she became the Chief Sporting Officer for the British luxury automobile manufacturer Aston Martin.
Williams has always had a passion for fashion and has often been noted for her unusual and colorful outfits on the court. A few of her most memorable fashion statements were in 2002 when she wore a black lycra catsuit at the US Open, then in 2004 when she wore denim skirts and knee-high boots (tournament officials did not allow her to wear the boots during the matches) and at Wimbledon in 2008 where she wore a trench-coat despite the sunny weather!
Her love of fashion led her to first develop her own fashion line with Puma and then in 2004 sign a deal for a line with Nike and begin her own line of apparel, Aneres (her name spelled backwards). In 2009 she launched a collection of handbags and jewelry, Signature Statement, which is sold mainly on HSN. Always following her passions, in 2010 she became a certified nail tech in preparation for the launch of her nail collection with OPI in 2011.
Williams fashion lines are about more then just looking good, explains the star who has often been criticized for her body, she wants women to feel empowered in her designs, she explains, “My designs are inspired by all women. I want women to know that it’s okay to love and embrace who you are… to be unapologetically bold and beautiful in anything you’re wearing. Through HSN, my Signature Statement collection is about empowering fans everywhere to connect with this message.”
But when it comes to body image Williams has no shame, asked by Good Morning America about the body-shaming slander she has been the victim of, she said, “I don’t have time to be brought down. I’ve got too many things to do. I have Grand Slams to win, I have people to inspire, and that’s what I’m here for.”
In April 2015, Williams showed off her fearless body when she became the first black female athlete to have a picture by herself on the cover of Vogue! And that same year she presented the clothing line for her HSN Signature Statement collection at New York Fashion Week.
In 2016 Williams became engaged to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and in April of 2017 she announced she was pregnant and taking a hiatus from tennis until 2018. The tennis legend known for comebacks (we look forward to her post-baby comeback!) joined the line of A-list celebrities to pose nude while pregnant on the August 2017 edition of Vanity Fair.
Williams celebrity status also rolls over to entertainment where she has appeared on several television shows such as the Simpsons, Law & Order, America’s Next Top Model, The Bernie Mac Show, a cameo in friend Beyonce’s Lemonade album music video Sorry, and in the movie Pixels, among many others.
In addition to her epic tennis career, fashion lines, endorsement deals, and entertainment appearances Williams uses her status for good through her Serena Williams Fund and the fund she created with her sister Venus, The Williams Sisters Fund. According to Williams, her fund has two main goals “Creating equity through education and assisting victims of senseless violence.”
Like in her article for Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, Williams often uses her powerful voice to empower women – here are a few of our favorite words of wisdom from Serena!
“The best thing about life is that every day is an opportunity to work on yourself, to dream a new dream and think bigger… to laugh, smile and experience more… to love the world around you a little longer than just the day before.”
Thank you Serena Williams for all you do to support women empowerment and for your inspiring message on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day!
For more inspiring women visit our page on Women Empowerment!