Serena Williams is the only Woman on Highest-Paid Athletes List

American tennis player Serena Williams is the highest paid female athlete in the world. She holds 23 Grand Slam titles, and her $89 million in career prize money is twice as much as that won by any other female athlete.

Williams, aged 37, has revolutionized tennis with her unique style of play. Off the court, she is just as successful. In 2014 she founded Serena Ventures, a venture firm investing in founders changing the world with their ideas and products. The firm focuses on funding start ups founded by women, minorities and young people.

In June 2019, Serena became the first athlete to be named on Forbes’ list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women. She also featured on the Power Women 2018 List, and most recently, she was named on the Forbes 2019 World’s Highest-Paid Athletes List.

Williams is the only woman on this list. Of the 100 Highest-Paid Athletes in the world today, 99 are men.

What’s the reason for such a huge disparity? Forbes writer Kim Elsesser argues that the root cause is “a chicken and egg situation. Since women are not paid equally to men, their game is not respected, and therefore less revenue is generated. Since less revenue is generated, female athletes continue to receive less pay.”

In a recent article for the New York Times, Emily Ryall writes about sexism in sport in relation to this year’s Fifa Women’s World Cup. The tournament has seen record-breaking viewing figures and received unprecedented global attention for women’s football.

“Great sport requires only three things: excellence of skill, uncertainty of outcome and a crescendo of drama until the last second. Gender or sex is irrelevant,” writes Ryall.

On the first day of Wimbledon 2019, it’s worth questioning why Serena Williams is the only woman to have made it onto that Forbes list. Our attitudes hold influence. We can all contribute to creating a culture where female athletes are respected and paid according to their skill and success.

Why do women still earn 77 cents for every dollar men do?

While women are making strides toward gender equality in the US and across the world, it is well documented that women still earn less than men for the same work, even when their educational backgrounds are comparable. Non-Hispanic white women in the US earn 77 cents for every dollar that white males earn, African American women earn 64 cents for every dollar, and Hispanic women 55 cents for every dollar.  This gap is not proving to narrow with time.

Not only do women make less than men in similar occupations, women are more often employed in low-income careers compared to men. Statistics show that women in the US tend to choose careers that are historically “female” – and coincidentally these positions tend to pay less too.

Image1WomenintheWorkForceA recent New York Times article indicated that this past December all employment gains in the US went to women, however, all of those jobs were “concentrated in low-wage sectors”.  This is due to various factors, but the following information may provide some insight.

An article published in the journal Organization Science explores whether women choose different careers than men and how their choices impact gender equality in the work force. The article suggests that differences in career choices for men and women can be “partly explained by women’s preferences for jobs with better anticipated work-life balance, lower identification with stereotypically masculine jobs, and lower expectations of job offer success in such stereotypically masculine jobs.”

It is a widely held belief that if women set higher expectations for their salaries or careers, the income gap between men and women would decrease.

So do we simply conclude that women are less driven than men? Is this what women want? OF COURSE NOT.

Image2WomenintheWorkForceAlthough women have been making advances in male-dominated occupations, women still typically choose careers that are “female oriented” such as healthcare, business services, and education. Why? It is a matter of historical and deeply rooted ideas about gender roles that also sustain the income gap. Women’s career choices stem from what society tells women they can or cannot do. An article from the Guardian (discussing the job market in England, but is reminiscent of what is happening in the US) explains, “The labor market has become a much harsher place for young people over the past 20 years, especially for young women. Women (are) trapped in low wage positions because they are still being channeled down traditional paths.”

Further, research shows that women actually do set lower salary expectations than men. A fascinating article from Forbes helped me understand the situation clearly. A study of about 66,000 college undergraduates projecting their salary for their first full-time job found that women expected to earn $49,248 annually while men’s expected earnings were $56,947. These projections are not based on the fact that women think they should earn less, expect less for their work, or are less driven than men. The figures the students projected were actually very closely aligned with what they would earn upon entering the workforce. Both male and female projections came from informed research, through speaking with someone in their chosen field, or using online resources.

Image3 WomenintheWorkForceAlthough it is important to negotiate higher salaries, Meghan Casserly of Forbes says it is not a feasible option for individuals seeking entry-level work in the current economy. Young people entering the work force today do not have much flexibility to bargain for higher salaries. Women are actually making appropriate decisions to ensure attaining a position in their career of choice.

The income gap is not something that is true only when discussing women who work in lower paying positions. Casserly mentions that life is not “much sweeter at the highest of highs.” Casserly writes, “A recent Bloomberg study of the compensation of the best-paid female leaders in the United States indicates an average take-home salary of $5.3 million dollars—roughly 18% less than their male peers.”

Of course, there is nothing wrong with choosing a traditionally “female” profession, but we should be reminded that we do not need to be confined in those sectors and jobs.

Casserly suggests two solutions to remove the disparity:

1. Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act which would make it illegal for men and women who perform equal work to receive different pay.

2. Instill “salary transparency” starting at the top which would set a “trickle-down precedent” and eventually affect women at all levels.

Some organizations that work toward  girls’ success in typically male-dominated fields include:

Girls Who Code

Black Girls Code

BBC Expert Women’s Days

STEM Education


Girl Develop It

Check out their websites to find out how to show your support!

Why We All Need to Stop Talking About Miley Cyrus

miley1By now, everyone has seen – or heard so much about they might as well have seen – Miley Cyrus’ performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. While it would be easy to dismiss the flurry of subsequent outrage as an overreaction to a largely inconsequential matter, there are deeper implications at play. Miley’s performance has pushed all the wrong buttons and, more importantly, has led to all the wrong reactions.

It is immediately apparent that Miley Cyrus’ performance was, at best, inappropriate and, at worst, sexually exploitative. For those who missed it, a barely-legal Miley Cyrus, who rose to fame as the squeaky-clean Disney heroine Hannah Montana, spent six minutes pretending to lick Robin Thicke and imitating sex with a foam finger in a nude bikini, surrounded by giant teddy bears. All of this underscored by the fact that the performance was set to Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’, which has been given the dubious honor of ‘rapiest song of the summer’.

Immediately, there was an outcry over what it meant for feminism, what message it was sending to young girls and the clear lapse of judgement in staging such a performance on live television. Taking it a step further, some have argued that Miley’s twerking was racially insensitive while others have classed it as a blatant cry for help.

In short, there was a lot to dislike about that particular VMA performance. But amidst the furor and blog posts and internet memes, many are missing the most important point. Of all the messages we’re sending to impressionable young girls and to a profit-hungry entertainment industry, the loudest one is this: sell women’s bodies for all they are worth, because they pay well.

It is admittedly very difficult to remain quiet, partly because of genuine shock and partly because of our inexhaustible love of schadenfreude: we enjoy ripping Miley Cyrus apart because she is young, pretty and wildly successful.  Some of the outcry has been fueled by the realization that women still have a very long way to go in entertainment (as many writers have pointed out, Thicke remained fully clothed and barely bobbed to the music, which was completely acceptable).  Yet none of these reasons justify causing such an uproar when we examine what the result of that uproar is.

Speaking to industry professionals, one hears the same sentiment repeated over and over – not that they the industry has been cowed by the public’s general horrified reaction, but rather that Miley Cyrus is a genius. As one Florida-based guitarist said, “I think its funny. What people don’t realize is, she’s sitting back banking from this.”

And banking she is. In the flurry of tweeting, commenting, picture publishing and head-shaking, few have stopped to consider how much Miss Cyrus is benefiting from her performance. By gyrating half-naked for a handful of minutes, Miley Cyrus provoked more than 300,000 tweets per minute, her next song (conveniently released the day after the VMAs) debuted at no. 2 on the billboard charts, she became the most followed user on Instagram and skyrocketed in Google and Wikipedia searches. Her success in the last few days has led Forbes to label her the biggest winner of the VMAs, despite walking away without any of MTV’s moonmen statues.

While we can harp on about the technicalities of who is allowed to twerk and whether Miley’s performance was a leap forward or two steps backwards for feminism, neither of these are battles which can be fought or won on an MTV stage. Conversely, the more we argue, the more buzz we generate, the more money goes into Miley Cyrus and her managers’ pockets and the more we encourage girls to push how much sex they can put on show for how much money.

Ultimately, if we can all agree that we were highly uncomfortable seeing a young girl so tastelessly exploited, the best thing we can do for that girl is stop watching.

Women at the Top

Social Norms. Informal Institutions. Silent rules.

These govern all societies throughout the world. They set up rules of conduct and shape the behavior and roles of people living in a community. These rules are needed in many cases, they form our culture and our social understanding. However, in many cases these norms create a socially acceptable discriminatory environment, which is difficult to change.

Women meet these every day. Some notice them distinctly in their everyday life whereas others don’t acknowledge them as a problem. These norms are present in the household as well as in the workplace. These norms may create gender related constraints, limiting women’s empowerment. These norms may make gender based violence acceptable or may discriminate against women in the workforce.

This post focuses on women in the workforce and women as leaders. Women in the World Foundation asks, “What would the world look like if women were represented fairly in government?” And mention that, “just 18.4 percent of parliamentarians and 10 percent of heads of state are women”.

Studies have shown that women meet stronger opposition as leaders, usually just because they are women. Even if the woman has managed the leadership position better than the man (not saying that this always is the case), the woman has been less popular. See links at the bottom for further information.

As it may be against “common practice” to have a woman elected as village council, CEO or Prime Minister, they may not be seen as capable enough for the position. For these norms to change, we must change the status and roles of women. As women make up half the population in our world (at least in most places) they need to be a part of governing and leading it as well. Women should have an equal part in any global and local concerns, be it peacebuilding or be it corporate responsibility.

Forbes has examined The 10 Worst Stereotypes of Powerful Women, interviewing top female leaders and their experiences with gender stereotypes.

Michelle Obama has been called an “angry black woman”. Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF),  mentions that she has met the notions that powerful women need to be masculine to succeed. NBC’s Ann Curry shares that she “was told she couldn’t be a news reporter because women had “no news judgment.””

These are some examples of successful women who have managed to break social norms and change the way we see women in our world. Haven’t they?

So how can women break these silent rules? Although gender related constraints are different in different areas of the world, I think this TED talk by the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg is inspiring. She summarizes the actions women need to take in three points.

Let’s work together to help women around the world be able to “sit at the table,” as this is easier said than done in most parts of the world.

For more inspiration on this topic:

Women in Public Service Colloquium

UN Multimedia: Women leaders call for an end to discriminatory barriers

Wellesley study: Female Leadership Advantage

Forbes: The myth of the ambition gap

Forbes: 5 Essential leadership lessons for women

Blog: The Upwalk