Venus Williams’ work is not finished, neither on nor off the pitch

Full translation of Jon Wertheim’s article published in Sports Illustrated on March 15, 2022

The tennis legend is fighting for pay equality outside of his sport, leveraging lessons learned in the past to help eliminate systemic inequities in many jobs. “We have to look at ourselves”. Venus Williams is at his home in South Florida. I am living my best lifehe recently stated in a phone call, indulging in his signature laugh before reaching the punchline. “It’s been a long time since the last match I played”. It’s true. It’s been exactly 7 months. Venus is 41 now. She is # 470 in her ranking, 469 places below the peak of her career. She is still one, or perhaps the, great dame of tennis. And Venus Williams remains an active player, more than a quarter of a century into her career, more than 13 years after her last major singles title. Why is she, and she like all people with so many options and interests, still there?

It is a kind of happy tennis mystery. Few would have predicted that Venus, the player who complained to former President Bill Clinton about taxes, would still be on the hook in the Biden years. And few complain. The more a model employee wants to stay at work, the better. It is easy to give explanations. He found that there is something morally right about competing, testing your limits, confront in terms of skill / will with players who are half her age. She is there to support her younger sister as Serena, on the threshold of 40 years, defiantly tries to avoid the passing of time. And when Serena is ready, these pioneer sisters will leave together.

Could there be financial benefits to staying a tennis player today? Venus doesn’t waste much time on this point. She has always been clear about: if you want to nip a conversation with her in the bud, ask her about her longevity. If, however, you are willing to give up on that topic and talk about more important matters than hitting a yellow ball over a net, you will get the Full Venus with all its experience and wisdom. Today’s topic, in correspondence with EqualPay Day, is gender pay gap. When Venus won her first major singles title at Wimbledon in 2000, she was handed a check for $ 696,858. The next day, Pete Sampras won the men’s title at the All-England Club. The check amount: $ 717,721. The fact that the difference was minimal (paying women 97% of men’s salaries) did not diminish the problem, especially since the organizers could not rely on any concrete data suggesting that the players were less valuable.

“In the middle of the tournament, you’re focused on that match, on that moment”, He says. “But yes, [il tennis] has ups and downs. Equal rights should never have ups and downs “. Year after year, Venus recalls, the WTA has submitted a request to the four majors regarding equal pay. “Women attended Grand Slam executive meetings and had their demands rejected every time. There was no consideration for them. “ Until she arrived. With Venus at the forefront, attending one meeting after another and even writing editorials, the majors have reversed course and, starting in 2007, have all guaranteed the same prize pool for men and women. Since then, prize money parity in major events has become a tenet of faith. A lesson you have learned: formalizing wage equality as a core value and goal of the company has made a difference.

“It was literally written in the WTA roadmap that you had to get the same prize money”says Venus Williams. “It had never existed on paper before. There were ideas out there and we talked about them, sure. But once it was put on paper, it became something real ». Now partner with Credit Karma to extend this battle to more traditional workplaces. “Money is one thing. Money is a real thing. But the issue is about equality and opportunity, and with money comes opportunity and empowerment. And historically, women haven’t had these opportunities. When it comes to minorities, the gaps widen. Outside the United States, the gap widens further. So this is a problem that affects women all over the world. “

Venus has solutions. Workers need to talk more about the wage gap and familiarize themselves with the data, including the statistic that one-third of American women feel they are unequally paid relative to their male counterparts. What about the employers? Venus says: “The pay gap stems from systematic inequalities, be it gender, race or sexual orientation. Our biases can perpetuate these pay gaps in the workplace. We have to look at ourselves. “ This is not the standard. Venus is both an employee and an employer. As an employer, you run a fashion and design company, Eleven. She tries to keep this in mind when she considers her employees: “Part of being happy is doing a job you love, that satisfies you and gives you freedom.”

Would you like to work for Venus? “I’m a good boss. Management is an art. I think the main complaint is that I don’t talk much. People would probably want more feedback from me. My personality is strong and silent. So communication, so important in the workplace, is not always my strong point. It is a flaw. That’s what I am. “ It has always been like that. Other players, not least his sister, are more direct. Her character has cost her sponsorships, social media following and stardom level. Which, says Venus, suits her well. But it’s worth remembering: in the last quarter of a century, no player other than Serena has won more majors. No player has behaved with so much dignity for so long. No player has done more than her to close the wage gap in tennis. The desire to disappear slowly, strong and silent, and to give up a flamboyant farewell tour, is just hers. The sports landscape will be much more empty when you decide to stop.

Translation by Luca Rossi

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