While the Census Bureau’s 2016 statistics indicated that there was a half cent decrease in the gender pay gap, the sad truth is women still earn an average of 80.5 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

In the sports world, however, there have been plenty of successful females that have stood up to fight against the pay gap, and speak out against pay inequality.

Here are a few things we can lean from professional athletes about closing the pay gap.

Get the conversation started

The Williams sisters have been extremely verbal when it comes to equal pay between men and women. In fact, Venus Williams was instrumental in ensuring that Wimbledon payed both champions the same prize money.

In 2006, a year after she took home the title (and wasn’t paid as much as her male counterpart), Williams wrote an open letter to the London Times that said Wimbledon’s prize structure, “devalues the principle of meritocracy and diminishes years are hard work that women on the tour have put into becoming professional tennis players. The message that I like to convey to women and girls across the globe is that there is no glass ceiling. My fear is that Wimbledon is loudly and clearly sending the opposite message.”

The letter received so much attention that even politicians like Tony Blair took notice and started to endorse equal pay. A year later, Wimbledon became the final Grand Slam tournament to award both champions the same prize money.

This might have happened without Williams’ letter, but it certainly sped up the process. You might not be a professional tennis player, but this is still an important lesson. When it comes to the pay gap, don’t be afraid to voice your opinion, speak up for yourself, and keep the conversation going. If no one ever talks about the pay gap, there won’t ever be a change.

Take action

Sometimes talking the talk is not enough. This was the case with the U.S. Women’s soccer team, which for years has been trying to close the pay gap and other inequalities in their sport.

When it seemed like their voices fell on deaf ears, they took other measures to make sure they were heard. In 2015, after years of arguing with FIFA about the safety of turf fields for women’s soccer, the team actually refused to play a friendly match, saying the playing surface was too dangerous.

“To force a change sometimes you need to stand up,” US women’s soccer star Alex Morgan told 60 Minutes. “You know what you’re worth, rather than what your employer is paying you. We’re not scared. To move the women’s game ahead we need to do what’s necessary.”

This is fundamental: women must do more than talk about equal pay; they need to act. Studies show that only 7 per cent of women negotiate their salaries compared to 57 per cent of men. For change to happen, we need to show the people in charge that we are series about this issue.

Show off your skills

According to research done by Cornell University, one of the biggest causes of the pay gap is the difference between the occupations and industries in which men and women work. One of the ways to change this is to buck perceptions about what women can do. Enter Lindsey Vonn; she wants to compete with men. That’s right, the Olympic Champion who has won more competitions than any female skier in history is now petitioning to compete against men at World Cup events this upcoming season. The International Skiing Federation is currently considering the proposal.

“It’s something that I want to do for me. If I can train with them and be at the same level, why can’t I race with them?” Vonn said in an interview with People Magazine. And she’s right. The more we prove that we can work at the same level, the more we force the pay gap to close.

Don’t compromise

The U.S. National Women’s Hockey team has had their fair share of difficulties when it comes to fighting for equal pay and fairness. Recent two-time Olympic silver medalist Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson plans to have a child after the 2018 Olympics, but says a family would stretch her pay even thinner and force her to give up the sport she loves.

“Women shouldn’t have to choose between their passion and having a family. They should be able to do both,” she said.

For so long, women have had to decide between being a successful career woman, or a successful mother. In fact, a recent article in the N.Y. Times cites motherhood as a large factor in the pay gap. Women like Jocelyne shouldn’t have to make these kinds of compromises, and by highlighting this difficult choice, she’s helping to bring the issue to light.

There is still a lot of work to be done to close the pay gap between men and women, but if we can learn anything from these professional athletes, it’s that by bringing attention to this issue, and taking a stand, we can help speed up the process.


Mia Gordon is a former professional tennis player and a sports broadcaster. Over the course of six years, she has worked for TSN, CBC Olympics, and the Sun News Network. She is now a host, reporter, and producer for Sportsnet and the National Lacrosse League.


See also:

Why women should always negotiate their salary (especially in tech)

Career inspiration from 5 empowered women


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