Venus Williams Gender Pay Equity | News
It’s no secret that Venus Williams is one of the greatest tennis players in the world and we’ve seen her break records since she was a teenager. But she is also an entrepreneur, writer, designer, activist, aunt, daughter and sister. Yet that hasn’t stopped her from experiencing the harsh realities of America’s gender pay gap.
In 1998, at only 18 years old, she courageously took up the torch to fight for equal pay in tennis at Wimbledon. Williams describes the time as a “rude awakening”. In 2005, the day before her third competition to win the Grand Slam, she met with the International Tennis Federation’s Grand Slam Board to discuss the gender pay gap in sport. But it wasn’t until 2007, when Wimbledon changed the rules, that Williams was able to receive the same salary as her male competitors.
She continued her fight for equal pay outside the tennis courts. EleVen by Venus Williams is the spearhead of The Privilege Tax initiative, a movement dedicated to raising awareness and fighting wage inequality. Venus has partnered with a coalition of retailers to give people the option to donate $1 when they shop with participating businesses. Proceeds go to Girls Inc., an organization that improves the lives of all girls through initiatives that inspire them to be strong, smart and bold.
Bet.com sat down with Williams to discuss her EleVen brand, the initiative and her activism in support of gender pay equity.
BET.com: Can you take us back to when you developed your passion for gender equality and equal pay?
Venus Williams: I have always been a strong supporter of equality for all and I use my voice to draw attention to this issue [of gender wage equality]. It was brought to my attention early in my tennis career and I have worked to fight for equal pay ever since – I know it persists far beyond the tennis courts.
. It’s sad to know that [overall] women earn only 83 cents on the dollar men earn. I am proud to work with my lifestyle brand EleVen, alongside many other great brands like TB12, Tracy Anderson, IMG Academy, WTA Charities and many more to bring this issue to light and empower customers to donate $1 at checkout to benefit Girls Inc.
BET.com: In 2006, you accused Wimbledon of paying women tennis players less than men and changed the tournament rules! How did it feel to hold them accountable and how did you find the confidence and resilience to do so?
williams: From a very young age, my mother always encouraged me to stand up for what is right, even if it is an unpopular opinion. I always dreamed of winning tournaments like Wimbledon, but when I got there I was struck by the inequality and felt compelled to campaign for equal pay for women on tour. Even though we have made progress in the sport of tennis, the lack of equality and equal opportunity for women remains a massive global problem. The more we talk about it and the more we educate others on how to fix the problem, the closer we will get to closing the wage gap.
BET.com: Why did EleVen lead the Privilege Tax Initiative?
williams: EleVen was created with a mission to empower women to be the best versions of themselves and help them push the limits of their potential, so it’s the perfect platform for this initiative. Women are working longer hours and pursuing higher education – yet significant wage gaps between men and women persist today, especially for women of color. EleVen is on a mission to help close this pay gap and fight for equality for all women, because we are passionate about helping women achieve all they are capable of and more, and that includes be paid what they are worth.
BET.com: The Lien Tax Initiative launched in 2021. What was your proudest moment about the initiative and how has its impact helped Girls Inc.?
williams: The Privilege Tax initiative is in its second year, and it has been extremely rewarding and a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness about the gender pay gap. It’s an initiative we’ve been working on year-round because the issue of wage inequality is a year-round issue — not just during the month of March. Last year, the Privilege Tax initiative raised over $20,000 for Girls Inc of Greater Los Angeles and this year we hope to top that for Girls Inc’s national organization. By coming together as a community for Privilege Tax, it allows us to shed some light on this issue and take these steps to close the gap.
BET.com: What about Girls Inc?. who stood out for you as a charity and how can readers best support them?
williams: Girls Inc. is an amazing organization that encourages all girls to be strong, smart, and bold, which naturally ties into EleVen’s mission to empower women to be the best versions of themselves. Through their direct service and advocacy, the organization equips young women with the skills to overcome economic, social and gender barriers and to grow as independent individuals. Through our Privilege Tax initiative, our customers have the opportunity to donate $1 at checkout, with all proceeds going to Girls Inc.
BET.com: How do you think those who don’t identify as women can support gender equality and gender pay equity?
williams: They can help us raise awareness of this issue and stand up for women who deserve equal pay. Everyone has a woman in their life who is affected by this – be it a mother, wife, daughter, sister or friend. We still have some way to go to level the playing field and every voice counts in this fight.
BET.com: Does EleVen support equal pay for women and men in other ways?
williams: EleVen was built on the idea of creating a community for women to feel and do their best in all aspects of life. Our mission is to continue to inspire women in everything we do to continually find their inner champion and be fearless in their pursuit of their best selves.
BET.com: How does intersectionality play a role in the gender pay gap?
williams: Women of color are disproportionately affected by the gender gap. Women [of color] are often under-represented in leadership positions but are over-represented in low-paying jobs, so raising the minimum wage is a priority. There is an urgent need for transparency in our salaries. I know what it’s like to face prejudice based on gender and race. This is one of the many reasons why I am so passionate about this initiative.
BET.com: I spoke to some women recently about the importance of pay transparency, especially for black women. Do you think pay transparency plays a role in equal pay between women and men?
williams: Absolutely, it is important to be transparent about our salaries. Otherwise, [others] don’t know how to better defend themselves. The responsibility should not rest solely with individuals, companies and organizations should do their part to find the pay gaps between employees in similar positions and between teams. Once you’ve identified any pay gaps, look at the maximum and minimum amount you pay employees who perform the same role and determine what it would take to close that gap, even if only slightly.
BET.com: What advice can you give to women who want to fearlessly advocate for equality and pay equity?
williams: I encourage all women to stand up for what they believe in, speak your truth and know your worth. I was taught to stand up for what is right and not be afraid to ask for what I want. If we don’t ask, we may never get – women should feel empowered to ask for what we know is right! I want this campaign to remind all women that their power and potential is endless. We all need to keep believing in ourselves, channeling our inner strength, and keep breaking down barriers!
Disclaimer: Answers have been edited for clarity.