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The Chant Heard Around the World: Lessons from the U.S. Women’s National Team Fight for Equal Pay

Photo by Sandro Schuh on Unsplash

When the U.S. Women’s National Team won the World Cup yesterday (their second in a row) there was understandably a LOT of cheering. Post game, the message that rose to drown out all others was a chant heard loud and clear for all to hear: “EQUAL PAY!” 

And while it is true that winning isn’t everything, it is also true that it certainly counts for a lot. Especially in sport. The excitement over yesterday’s win and all of the incredible sportsmanship that built up to it throughout the World Cup has brought the team’s fight for pay equity front and center on the world stage. While the players deferred questions on the subject to their legal representation throughout the tournament in order to focus on soccer, momentum and passion for the fight has only been building among their supporters, old and new. 

For those of us who don’t speak “soccer” (or sports of any kind, for that matter–like myself), this fight is still our fight. The USWNT is driving the conversation on pay equity forward for all of us, and teaching us important lessons along the way that we can use in our own careers. 

Focus on the Game (or in this case, the match)

As I mentioned above, throughout the World Cup U.S. players deferred questions and conversations surrounding their legal fight for pay equity to their lawyers in order to focus on soccer. That focus appears to have had a profound effect. 

The lesson here is simple: when it comes time to perform, drown out all other noise and do it to your best ability. As women, we are constantly fighting battles in our careers and personal lives–for equal pay, for equitable division of labor, for recognition, and more. These fights are important and deserve our time and our passion, but the USWNT showed us that these fights cannot take away from our performance. In order to stand out, sometimes we need to push these battles to the side so that we can win the professional victories that will give us the numbers we need to win. 

Let the Numbers Speak for Themselves, But Demand Recognition Where it is Deserved

Speaking of numbers, there are a lot to consider here: revenue each team brings in, how pay is allocated to men vs. women in U.S. soccer, number of jerseys sold, sponsorships, prize money awarded, and of course, titles won. For those counting – AKA all of us – the USWNT has now claimed four World Cup victories to compare against the U.S. men’s national team’s zero. 

These numbers have made the USWNT America’s banner soccer franchise. And while these numbers speak for themselves, as many of us know, women often need to amplify their own and one another’s successes in order to receive deserved recognition for their accomplishments. Even when, on paper, the numbers should be ear-shattering, they can still somehow not be loud enough to drive change on their own. As Megan Rapinoe said on Sunday, “We can't do anything more to impress, to be better ambassadors, to take on more, to play better, to do anything. It's time to move that conversation forward to the next step.” 

In other words, USWNT’s “numbers” could not possibly speak louder. But players are not relying on those numbers to do all of the talking. They are also demanding action, and demanding it now. The tournament is over and they won brilliantly, and it is time to be compensated. 

For these lessons and for the amazing inspiration we have taken and will continue to take from the U.S. Women’s National Team, we stand firmly with Molly Levinson, spokeswoman for the players in their lawsuit, and the words she shared after the World Cup victory: "At this moment of tremendous pride for America, the sad equation remains all too clear, and Americans won't stand for it anymore. These athletes generate more revenue and garner higher TV ratings but get paid less simply because they are women. It is time for the Federation to correct this disparity once and for all."

We are thankful to these women for all they have given us on and off the field. Thank you for driving this issue forward, for all of us.