Serena Williams, one of the highest paid and most successful athletes in the world, has issued a stirring call for black women to demand equal pay and spoken about the racism she has faced “on and off the tennis court”.
In a personal essay published by Fortune to coincide with Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, the tennis superstar said the gender pay gap “hits women of colour the hardest”, as they suffer from both gender and racial financial disparity. For every dollar earned by men in the US, Williams said, black women earn 63 cents, and 17% less than white women.
Her comments come as pay gaps are examined in a range of industries after the BBC was engulfed in scandal when it published a list of its top earners in July.
Williams, a 23-times grand slam winner, wrote that black women have to work eight months longer to earn the same “as their male counterparts do in one year”, and drew on her own experiences to highlight the unfair treatment of black women in the workplace. “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,” she wrote.
Williams has repeatedly been the target of sexist and racist remarks by men in tennis. In 2016 the chief executive of the Indian Wells tennis tournament, Raymond Moore, said women’s tennis was riding on the coat-tails of the men’s tour and that female players should “thank god” for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. In April the Romanian team captain, Ilie Nastase, made an apparently racist comment about Williams’s unborn baby and was heard calling her and Johanna Konta “fucking bitches”.
Most recently, former champion John McEnroe said Williams would “be, like, 700 in the world” if she played on the men’s tour. “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,” Williams wrote.
Noting that she is “in the rare position to be financially successful beyond my imagination”, Williams said that, if she had not been lucky enough to pick up a tennis racquet and break through, she would be like the other 24 million black women facing wage disparities in the US.
“The cycles of poverty, discrimination and sexism are much, much harder to break than the record for Grand Slam titles,” she wrote. “For every black woman that rises through the ranks to a position of power, there are too many others who are still struggling.”
She said that changing the status quo would take courage to push the issue into the spotlight and force employers to compensate female employees equally: “We deserve equal pay for our mothers, our wives, our daughters, our nieces, friends, and colleagues – but mostly for ourselves.
“Black women: be fearless. Speak out for equal pay. Every time you do, you’re making it a little easier for a woman behind you. Let’s get back those 37 cents.”
Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, on 31 July, marked how long into 2017 an African American woman would have to work to be paid the same wages as her white male counterpart last year.
“Despite the large gender disadvantage faced by all women, black women were near parity with white women in 1979,” the Economic Policy Institute said. “However in 2016, white women’s wages grew to 76% of white men’s, compared to 67% for black women relative to white men – a racial difference of nine percentage points. The trend is going the wrong way – progress is slowing for black women.”
In the UK, research by the Fawcett Society in March revealed a similar story, that many minority ethnic women were “left behind” by progress on the pay gap.
Black African women in the UK have seen virtually no progress since the 1990s in closing the gender pay gap with white British men, with a full-time pay gap of 21.4% in the 1990s and 19.6% today.
“Black African women have been largely left behind, and in terms of closing the pay gap, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are today only where white British women were in the 1990s,” Sam Smethers, the charity’s chief executive, said.
The low number of staff from ethnic minorities on the BBC’s list of its best-paid talent has also provoked an angry response inside the corporation, after no black or ethnic minority staff featured among those earning the top 24 salaries.
Williams has been a consistent advocate of equal pay. Earlier this month, when asked about what she would want for her child, she said: “If my daughter were to play in a sport and she was able to have equal prize money, or equal pay, or equal rights, I feel like that would be a success. And if not, I would really want her to speak up for it. Any daughter of mine will have a voice.”
She also praised Andy Murray after he corrected a journalist who said Sam Querrey was “the first US player to reach a major semi-final since 2009”.
Williams has joined the board of Silicon Valley firm SurveyMonkey to help tech companies diversify their workforces.
Culled from https://www.theguardian.com/