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‘A Rude Awakening’: Venus Williams Wants to Close Gender Gap, Reflects on Learning About Pay Inequality at 16

As she prepares for the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday, March 27, where “King Richard,” the movie based on her family’s life is nominated in five categories, Venus Williams is using her platform to talk about gender-based pay inequality.

The champion tennis star said she was first introduced to the gap in how men are paid versus women after winning a tournament as a teen.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 19: Venus Williams attends the 33rd Annual Producers Guild Awards at Fairmont Century Plaza on March 19, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

During an interview with CBS Mornings host Gayle King, Williams talked about one of her passions outside of the sport the world has come to love her for.

The latest project she is spearheading is called the Privilege Tax initiative and will raise money for Girls Inc., a nonprofit focused on creating more opportunities for girls and young women, especially in STEM.

Williams told King she will work with companies, including EleVen, her own clothing brand, to consider asking their customers to donate $1 to the initiative each time they purchase something from their business. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the Privilege Tax will go to Girls Inc. This is a huge jump from last year, when the ask was only 19 cents.

The superstar athlete told King her experience with gender pay inequality “at the young age of 16” at her first Grand Slam. She said she received “a rude awakening.”

Williams wrote a letter to the organizers of Wimbledon in 2006 to express how disappointed she was with her payment as champion the previous year, saying she felt like “a second-class champion.”

“The time has come for it to do the right thing: pay men and women equal prize money,” Williams wrote while in her mid-20s.

“So the decision of the All England Lawn Tennis Club yet again to treat women as lesser players than men — undeserving of the same amount of prize money — has a particular sting,” the letter read in part.

“The time has come for it to do the right thing by paying men and women the same sums of prize money,” the letter also said. “The total prize pot for the men’s events is £5,197,440; for the women, it is £4,446,490. The winner of the ladies’ singles receives £30,000 less than the men’s winner; the runner-up £15,000 less, and so on down to the first-round losers.”

In her interview on CBS, she said, “I don’t want any other young women to have to face that.”

“Women are earning 82 cents to the dollar that men are earning,” the seven-time Grand Slam champion informed King. “If you’re a minority … if you’re living out of the country … it gets even worse.”

“It’s important to call attention to this, that people know this because women not only need equal opportunity, but it gives them opportunity to grow and become strong and to help their families,” she said.

Williams says that while there are a lot of companies working with the Privilege Tax, she wishes more would step up for this important cause.

In 2021, she had stores like Nordstrom, Tracy Anderson, Tom Brady’s TB12, Carbon38, Credo Beauty, and Williams’ other company Happy Viking, a plant-based protein company.

“There’s got to be more organizations,” she said. “People do want to do this, but it takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

The Compton native recognizes the work she is doing to bring awareness to gender-based pay inequity is important, especially for Black women.

“That gap widens when you’re a Black woman, a woman of minority. I’m just very happy that as an African-American woman that I can speak to this and make this known,” she said. “It’s a very important role that I never thought I’d play. I just wanted to win Wimbledon!” 

“I got there, it wasn’t equal, and it’s just led me to this place where I’m able to do more than I ever could have thought I could do,” she concluded.

By 2007 when Williams won her fourth Wimbledon title the men’s and women’s prize funds were equal, and today all the Grand Slams and combined tennis events are at pay parity between men and women.

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