Alamy

23 June 2022 - 2:39 PM

Photo

Alamy | Dawn Staley

Know your worth: US women’s soccer inspired boardroom negotiations—and the world

  • High-profile women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley pointed to The United States women's national soccer team (USWNT) during negotiations which gave her a landmark $22.4 million contract.
  • The USWNT and their equal pay fight was given its due, paving the way for more women to ask for what they deserve.
  • Why it matters: Social media platforms have given athletes a voice, which is building their confidence to speak up for what’s important.
  • The perspective: As more women executives and athletes recognize the power of ‘knowing your worth’, momentum will continue to build and create more of a level playing field.

It’s not often that the public is privy to boardroom negotiations. But, last October, after Dawn Staley signed an historic seven-year, $22.4 million contract as head coach for women’s basketball at the University of South Carolina, she was very vocal in why she landed such a major signing: the US Women’s National Soccer Team. 

During talks, Staley credited Megan Rapinoe and the USWNT after watching the documentary “LFG” that centered on their equal pay fight and the lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. 

Eight months on, more has transpired. The infamous lawsuit was settled, first and foremost. The deal grants the U.S. women’s and men’s soccer teams the same compensation and benefits for the first time ever in the history of the sport. And U.S. Soccer will pay $22 million to the players named in the case with an additional $2 million designed to support USWNT players in their post-career goals and charitable efforts related to women’s and girls’ soccer. 

Also of significance, World Cup Prize money will be pooled between the men's and women’s teams and split equally among all players. This marks a first among all soccer federations globally. 

To demonstrate just what that means, the men’s World Cup winner in 2018, France, was awarded $38 million, while the U.S. women’s team was only given $4 million for their win in 2019.

Chain of cause-and-effect around the world

Staley’s contract—and more to the point, her declaration of how she arrived at it —remains a major talking point for women’s football—and women’s sports overall. It’s the chain-of-cause-and-effect across the world beyond sports.  

“There's probably thousands of women across the corporate landscape that started to say ‘Oh, wow, maybe I should negotiate, maybe I should ask for more, maybe I should understand what my colleagues and counterparts are being compensated,” says Jessica O’Neill, President of Houston Dash, which plays in the National Women’s Soccer League in the U.S.

“It's exciting for Dawn, first and foremost, but it's a reminder of the ripple effects that these decisions and moments are as a marker for movement and change.”

For O’Neill, the news has greater meaning. The University of South Carolina is her alma mater where she witnessed the beginning of Staley’s career from the outset when she played for the Gamecocks. The team represents the college in the NCAA Division I. 

Photo:

PR | Jessica O’Neill, President of Houston Dash

But, it’s the example Staley set forth in a leadership role that O’Neill looks to now, noting: “I have a greater appreciation for understanding how long it takes to start to see results of the work that teams experience when you ask them to think about things a little bit differently.” 

Further to her credit, Staley led the Gamecocks to their second National Championship in April. It’s been said that Staley has built the women’s basketball team into a national powerhouse. 

Staley’s shining example demonstrates that women’s sports is clearly on an upward trend. The hope is, of course, that big contract signings become commonplace. 

A good indicator of this in women’s football is national team member Christen Press, who previously played professionally for Manchester United in the English Women’s Super League. She was the first player to sign a contract with the NWSL’s Angel City FC reportedly in the vicinity of $700,000 for three seasons. This salary makes her one of the highest-paid athletes in the history of the league.

Still, this and Staley’s example are deemed as progress—and there is still much work to be done. 

“Athletes can inspire more than just fans—but other athletes as well, and I hope we see a continued domino effect as those at the top fight for what they’re worth, and break down the doors for everyone else to follow,” says Rachel Quon, head of operations at Just Women Sports, a digital-first consumer media brand dedicated to women's sports. 

Quon says while individual wins are important for visibility, there needs to be a greater emphasis on improving the pay and experience of every player and coach. 

Photo:

PR | Rachel Quon, head of operations at Just Women Sports

She also underscores the importance of digital media. 

"We need to convert fans of individual players and teams into dedicated fans who are plugged into the whole space,” she says. “That’s what we’re focused on at Just Women’s Sports. We see digital media as being critical to onboarding the next generation of women’s sports fans.”

A new level of confidence

Of Staley, Courtney Ksiazek, senior director of Partnership Marketing at Angel City FC, highlights that Staley's salary is indeed helping to propel further advancements. But, she, too, points to the power of social media that is lifting women’s sports. It’s the ability to have a voice and allow it to be heard through the social channels that serves as a critical tool. Players themselves, are brands of their own now because of it, says Ksiazek. 

Ksiazek gets deeper into what is transpiring, and that is the willingness of athletes and coaches to speak up. It’s a level of confidence that didn't exist five years ago, she says. 

“It’s only now that a player feels confident and comfortable and understands their true value, “says Ksiazek. “I think it’s a really interesting sign that there is this confidence level coming that just feels really significant to me.” 

Some of that is attributed, again, to social media platforms that allow people to quantify their value brand-wise, by the number of followers and corresponding metrics. 

Value is the key

Yet the term ‘value’ is key to what needs to happen to see greater change. 

As Ksiazek says: “The first thing that comes to mind is certainly just valuing women as people—it’s so basic. But I think it all comes back to the product on the field is not valued like the men because you don't see their work as the same.”

That’s one of the reasons Staley’s moxie is so far-reaching. For Ksiazek, sports is just the place to create societal change. It allows for the opportunity to have a captive audience, which, in turn, lends itself to accelerate conversations that are likely happening more individually elsewhere, she says.

Photo:

PR | Courtney Ksiazek, senior director of Partnership Marketing at Angel City FC

Ksiazek furthers her point. 

“I think how Dawn carries herself is so needed in this movement—and so healthy,” she says.

“I think certainly, as a player, she's accomplished so much, and now as a coach, but how she speaks about turning around the program, how she affected the internal inner workings of South Carolina and wanting more fans at those games. She understands the 360 value of putting not just her team in the best place and winning, of course, but the greater impact that she could make for women everywhere, which is really spectacular. So I truly commend the public message she's had with this and how she understands how that can be inspiring—it's important to be able to share that.”

O’Neill weighs in, adding that a positive sign is more mentorship, seminars and classes on negotiating for oneself, knowing your worth and how to make business cases for things that keep emotions out of the scenario, all of which she sees unfolding.

Unmasking more of the courageous conversations

And as she is witness to more people sharing “the courageous acts that they do behind the scenes”, asking for what one wants—and deserves—becomes more normal in the sporting landscape for women. 

O’Neill herself spoke up when she was asked to take on more duties, and when she was offered a raise. In both instances she fought for more compensation.  

“It's been one of many things that people have kept very private— conversations about compensation, career path and the ability to earn,” she says. 

There is more of an importance, she says, on placing comparisons of what executives are earning in the various markets where they are doing, more or less, the same job. 

“The more unmasking we can do at a micro level and a macro level of these conversations—because I know the courageous conversations are happening, and ensuring that those stories are told, will perpetuate these amazing outcomes, like Dawn’s,” says O’Neill.