This Women’s History Month, Venus Williams is shining a spotlight on wage inequality.
Over the course of her incredible career, Williams has dedicated herself to advocating for equal pay in her sport and beyond. “I remember when we got equal prize money. It finally happened,” she recently told Vanity Fair, reflecting on her historic 2007 Wimbledon win in which she played an integral part in leveraging the rights of female competitors behind the scenes. “It was hard because I was still ready to fight. We’d been fighting so long, but it was time to put the picket sign away. I’ll be really happy to have that feeling again.”
During the month of March, EleVen by Venus Williams is leading The Privilege Tax initiative—a coalition of retailers raising awareness about pay inequalities and fundraising for Girls Inc., an organization dedicated to improving the lives of underprivileged girls through initiatives that inspire them to be strong, smart and bold.
“It’s our second year, and it’s been a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness and to help at the grassroots level and extremely rewarding. It’s our favorite time of the year as a team and my personal favorite because, of course, we’re pro-woman,” she says.
The initiative will partner with Credit Karma to amplify the importance of Equal Pay Day (March 15th), with the support of companies like Twilio and A&E. Ahead, Williams talks with Vanity Fair about her personal connection to the cause, what it means to be a rebel, and the power of someone believing in you.
Vanity Fair: When you talk a lot about your work around equal pay, you go back to that moment in 2000 when you won the Wimbledon six years after your professional debut. Take me back to that moment.
Venus Williams: I hadn’t planned to win Wimbledon…you always want to, but you don’t go in saying, gosh I want to lose this year. It was very interesting to say the least that the year that we finally got equal pay, I also won. And it was great to have Billie Jean King and the audience too, who was the catalyst for everything women’s tennis. So it was a really special moment. I’d love to go back to that.
Do you feel like that moment ignited the journey that you are still on now, fighting for this cause?
I think the moment definitely started before. My mom always said, if you see something wrong, stand up for what’s right. If I’m around, if I can do anything about it, I always stand up for what’s right even if it’s unpopular. So with that being said, yeah it had started years before, but I had no plan. I was just planning to play tennis, so you find yourself in the moment and things just start rolling, and it definitely feels like a natural fit, especially since I lived it.
Why is it so important to you to have sustained the momentum of this fight throughout your whole career?
The issue is just as relevant today as it was in 2007. We saw that women’s soccer got equal pay after fighting for a very long time. I remember in the 90’s, watching Mia Hamm and all the ladies just do their own thing. And they’ve been playing amazing for decades and finally just getting recognized. So it’s such a long battle. That’s just sports, not let alone everything else in the world. So it’s amazing that many corporations are stepping up and that’s where the lead has to be taken at that top level.