There’s scarcely a woman on earth who isn’t impacted by the fight for gender equality—but no where does that fight feel so visceral than in the world of sports. A world where Megan Rapinoe and the USWNT can dominate on the global stage and then come home to fraction of the pay their (less-qualified) male counterparts have up for grabs. And where top-of-their-game champions can lose their jobs just for getting pregnant. And where Serena Williams can work harder and longer than her male colleagues can still be asked to prove herself—over and over and over.
“Just because I am a woman doesn’t mean I deserve less—I work just as hard,” says Williams. “I’ve given up so much in my life and I’ve sacrificed so much. Why do I have to get paid less? I feel like women in sports are fighting with that right now.”
They definitely are. From the ongoing high-profile lawsuit filed by the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team to the historic equal pay deal just won by the women of the WNBA, female athletes have become the face of the gender gap.
But it isn’t just about the money. Equal pay is a nuanced issue that touches everything from amateur training conditions to the lack of maternity leave protections for female athletes. Entire systems have to change.
Williams, the athlete, advocate and force behind the multi-million dollar Serena Williams brand, wants to change them. So today, she and Secret Deodorant announced that they are teaming up to move the needle, pledging $1 million to supporting gender equality in sports.
The first step is calling out inequalities—relentlessly—to change things for this generation and the next. “I use my voice because I know if I keep talking, someone is going to eventually hear,” says Williams. “Maybe not today, but maybe for my daughter. Now that I have a daughter, it’s even more important. You just have to keep using your voice to change it for the next person.”
Next comes getting those who can to put their money where their mouth is. “I feel so much hope that these conversations are happening,” says Sara Saunders, associate brand director for Secret Deodorant. “But we’re trying to push to make sure those conversations result in action because talking about it doesn’t necessarily help us solve the issue.”
To that end, Secret and Williams are launching a study on gender inequality in sports. By surveying high school athletes, college players and professional athletes, the study will pinpoint three to four areas where Secret and Williams can deploy cash to make a real difference.
Secret has already shown what that can look like. “After we heard the chanting at the World Cup game, we realized that we needed to step up and do even more,” Saunders said. After that, the brand made a $529,000 donation to the United States Women’s National Team Players’ Association to close the gender pay gap in soccer and purchased over 9,000 tickets to National Women’s Soccer League games to help women’s teams get more visibility. In 2020, they hope to make that impact even bigger for the women and girls facing down the gender gap every day.
For Williams, that means bringing as many players into the conversation as possible—including men. “I feel like what people don’t realize is that we need men to use their voice as much as women. You are not going to get equal anything if men aren’t helping and vice versa,” she says. “A group singing is louder than a solo singer. It’s important to have a group get together and to sing.”
Macaela MacKenzie is a senior editor at Glamour.