In honor of Black Women's Equal Pay Day on July 31, tennis superstar Serena Williams had a message for Black women: "Be fearless."
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The American Association of University Women (AAUW) calls July 31 Black Women's Equal Pay Day. Black women make, on average, 63 cents to the non-Hispanic white male's dollar. Therefore, July 31 is the day that Black women's earnings "catch up" to those of white males.
Williams, who is ranked No. 1 by the Women's Tennis Association and has won 23 Grand Slam single titles, is also a vocal advocate for issues of racism and sexism. Yesterday she penned an essay published in Fortune, "How Black Women Can Close the Pay Gap," in which she recognizes "the many realities black women face every day."
"Growing up, I was told I couldn't accomplish my dreams because I was a woman and, more so, because of the color of my skin," Williams wrote. "In every stage of my life, I've had to learn to stand up for myself and speak out. I have been treated unfairly, I've been disrespected by my male colleagues and — in the most painful times — I've been the subject of racist remarks on and off the tennis court."
Even someone with as many successes and accomplishments as Williams faces discrimination. This year Williams' skills were questioned by a former tennis great who suggested her qualifications would not measure up in the men's circuit. Another former tennis great made racist comments about Williams and her unborn child.
Despite the poor treatment, Williams "worked like crazy" and "was lucky" to achieve as much as she has. However, she knows her life could have ended up very differently if not for her tennis career.
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"But today isn't about me," she continued. "It's about the other 24 million black women in America. If I never picked up a tennis racket, I would be one of them; that is never lost on me."
"The cycles of poverty, discrimination, and sexism are much, much harder to break than the record for Grand Slam titles," she continued. "For every black woman that rises through the ranks to a position of power, there are too many others who are still struggling. Most black women across our country do not have the same support that I did, and so they often don't speak out about what is just, fair and appropriate in the workplace. When they do, they are often punished for it."
Williams responds to McEnroe's sexist comments that question her ability to defeat pro tennis players in the men's circuit.
Williams shared that she recently joined the board of directors for SurveyMonkey and partnered with the company to learn a little bit more about the gender pay gap and how it impacts Black women in particular.
Some of the findings include:
• Racial and gender disparities exist when it comes to recognizing the gender pay gap. Nearly 70 percent of Black women acknowledge that it exists, compared to just 44 percent of white men.
• Almost two-thirds of Black women recognize "major obstacles" for women in the workplace. And about three-quarters of Black women say minorities also face challenges of their own.
• Millennial Black women exhibit some optimism, as 43 percent reported that men and women both have the same opportunities for promotion.
For those who do not recognize the gender pay gap despite the evidence, Williams says, "Data doesn't lie."
"It just gives a number to the gap women feel every day," she added.
"Black women: Be fearless," Williams urges. "Speak out for equal pay. Every time you do, you're making it a little easier for a woman behind you. Most of all, know that you're worth it. It can take a long time to realize that. It took me a long time to realize it. But we are all worth it. I've long said, 'You have to believe in yourself when no one else does.'"
"The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap," a 2016 report the AAUW, states that closing the gender pay gap will take concerted effort.
"The good news is that the gap has narrowed considerably in the last hundred years," according to the report. "The bad news is that the gap is still sizable, it's even worse for women of color, and it doesn't seem likely to go away on its own."
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