The USWNT Broke Records and Stole Our Hearts. Will It Boost Their Legal Case?

5min read

With one fight down and another one left to go, the US Women's Soccer Team has officially won the World Cup. Yet their battle for wage equality rages on. Only now, they have crowds of fans chanting"equal pay" to back them up.

On March 8th, when the USWNT filed its suit against US Soccer, it was already an intense period for the whole team: weeks before their next training camp and only a few months from their first World Cup match. For most people, this would not be an ideal time to begin a lengthy legal battle, but there would be no more waiting for this team. Alex Morgan spoke to the New York Times and stated, "We don't always want to be patient, you have to seize the moment." Female patience is overrated and, often, undeserved, so it's refreshing to see these women ready to throw down when the time is right for them. However this timing also meant that the lawsuit became unintentionally, inextricably linked to their performance in the World Cup. And we all know how that ended…

Fucking remarkably.

With this victory, the USWNT has further solidified themselves in the hearts of fans and novices alike. They've broken records, beat out all of their competition and generated some seriously top tier memes. This win (and their entire performance) may have thematically supported their claim to higher wages, but team pride only goes so far. What do the numbers really look like and what does this mean for the larger issue of pay inequality for all women?

For those not steeped in knowledge of how athletes make money (as I was before this entire debacle began playing out), here's the skinny. First and foremost, the issue is complicated because of varied revenue streams and some imprecise statistics, as well as the fact that the men and women teams' wages have different structures. The USWNT earn a base salary while the USMNT do not, but the men earn large bonuses even on matches they lose. Both the men and women earn victory bonuses, but the men's are significantly higher than the women's. Additionally, bonuses are available for merchandising, match attendance and specific tournaments, which are completely variable. Despite the complicated nature of this issue, the suit has broken it down into sample scenarios where no matter how you slice it, the women earn less for better work. Some people are happy to accept that the women's team earn less money because there are fewer fans; people don't show up in frenzied droves to attend their games like the men's. But if the real problem is money made versus money paid, then it's easy math.

It's important to note that the World Cup prize money, though similarly discriminatory in its paltry amount, is not considered in this suit, because the suit is against US Soccer, and FIFA is the organization that collects and disseminates World Cup money. US Soccer does claim to base many of their financial decisions on the practices of FIFA, but the two are technically separate entities. And one giant corporation falling in line with another, does not excuse the behavior. So winning the World Cup doesn't technically impact the lawsuit at all, but it certainly looks worse for US Soccer to find the literal champions of the world (two times in a row, I might add) unworthy of equal pay. Especially considering the USNMT's comparatively, ahem, pathetic performance.

FIFA and USSF are both structures that are deeply entrenched in masculine ideals, systematic sexism and the failings of capitalism. We are raised to believe that capitalism is a meritocracy, if you work hard you'll make more money and be more successful. But looking at the pay and performance of the USWNT, merit has nothing to do with it. Because if it was about who was better, these women would be making a hell of a lot more. So what these women are fighting for with this legal battle and what winning the world cup is getting them one step closer to, is money, yes, but it's also respect. Because in our world, the two are often one and the same.

Because if it was about who was better, these women would be making a hell of a lot more. So what these women are fighting for with this legal battle and what winning the world cup is getting them one step closer to, is money, yes, but it's also respect.

According to Megan Rapinoe, it's about "Not just blindly throwing cash at things, but investing in infrastructure, in training programs or academies for women, in coaching for women. All of it. I don't think you, sort of, get to the point of having an incredible business by running it on a budget that's a dollar more than it was last year. You have to make big up-front investments and really bet on the future. I think that the women's game has proved time and time again, World Cup after World Cup, year after year that we're worthy of the investment. The quality on the field and the product on the field is there, and we just sort of need that business step to be in line in terms of all the steps we are making on the field in terms of performance. So for me, I always say that, it's always money."

The USWNT's World Cup performance parallels their legal battle in a powerful way, their success and their popularity both underscore the justification for earning more. It has been thrilling to watch our country's team revel in their success and hard work, thrilling in a way that I have never before experienced as an American woman. This World Cup has made lifelong fans out of people who never looked twice at a soccer ball before and it is that kind of commanding respect that the USWNT wholly embody. Although it looks as though their lawsuit may just end in mediation, the impact that their stellar World Cup run has had will be indelible on the USWNT's history as well as pay discrimination at large simply because of what it symbolizes. This victory represents what we ladies may already know but that the world (and the USSF) needs to be reminded of: women kick ass. And it's time we got paid for it.

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Fresh Voices

My Unfiltered Struggle of Introducing a Product to a Neglected Market

Sweaty Palms & Weak Responses

Early spring 2018, I walked into the building of a startup accelerator program I had been accepted into. Armed with only confidence and a genius idea, I was eager to start level one. I had no idea of what to expect, but I knew I needed help. Somehow with life's journey of twists and turns, this former successful event planner was now about to blindly walk into the tech industry and tackle on a problem that too many women entrepreneurs had faced.

I sat directly across from the program founders, smiling ear to ear as I explained the then concept for HerHeadquarters. Underneath the table, I rubbed my sweaty palms on my pants, the anxiousness and excitement was getting the best of me. I rambled on and on about the future collaborating app for women entrepreneurs and all the features it would have. They finally stopped me, asking the one question I had never been asked before, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".

Taken back by the question, I responded, "I just know". The question was powerful, but my response was weak. While passionate and eager, I was unprepared and naively ready to commit to building a platform when I had no idea if anyone wanted it. They assigned me with the task of validating the need for the platform first. The months to follow were eye-opening and frustrating, but planted seeds for the knowledge that would later build the foundation for HerHeadquarters. I spent months researching and validating through hundreds of surveys, interviews, and focus groups.

I was dedicated to knowing and understanding the needs and challenges of my audience. I knew early on that having a national collaborating app for women entrepreneurs would mean that I'd need to get feedback from women all across the country. I repeatedly put myself on the line by reaching out to strangers, asking them to speak with me. While many took the time to complete a survey and participate in a phone interview, there were some who ignored me, some asked what was in it for them, and a few suggested that I was wasting my time in general. They didn't need another "just for women" platform just because it was trending.

I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve. I became irritated. Just because HerHeadquarters didn't resonate with them, doesn't mean that another woman wouldn't find value in the platform and love it. I felt frustrated that the very women I was trying to support were the ones telling me to quit. I struggled with not taking things personally.

I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve.

The Validation, The Neglect, The Data, and The Irony

The more women I talked to, the more the need for my product was validated. The majority of women entrepreneurs in the industries I was targeting did collaborate. An even higher number of women experienced several obstacles in securing those collaborations and yes, they wanted easier access to high quality brand partnerships.

I didn't just want to launch an app. I wanted to change the image of women who collaborated and adjust the narrative of these women. I was excited to introduce a new technology product that would change the way women secured valuable, rewarding products. I couldn't believe that despite that rising number of women-owned businesses launching, there was no tool catered to them allowing them to grow their business even faster. This demographic had been neglected for too long.

I hadn't just validated the need for the future platform, but I gained valuable data that could be used as leverage. Ironically, armed with confidence, a genius idea, and data to support the need for the platform, I felt stuck. The next steps were to begin designing a prototype, I lacked the skillsets to do it myself and the funding to hire someone else to do it.

I Desperately Need You and Your services, but I'm Broke

I found myself having to put myself out there again, allowing myself to be vulnerable and ask for help. I eventually stumbled across Bianca, a talented UX/UI designer. After coming across her profile online and reaching out, we agreed to meet for a happy hour. The question I had been asked months prior by the founders of my accelerator program came up again, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".

It was like déjà vu, the sweaty palms under the table reemerged and the ear to ear smile as I talked about HerHeadquarters, only this time, I had data. I proudly showed Bianca my research: the list of women from across the country I talked to that supported that not only was this platform solving a problem they had, but it's a product that they'd use and pay for.

I remember my confidence dropping as my transparency came into the conversation. How do you tell someone "I desperately need you and your services, but I'm broke?". I told her that I was stuck, that I needed to move forward with design, but that I didn't have the money to make it happen. Bianca respected my honesty, loved the vision of HerHeadquarters, but mostly importantly the data sold her. She believed in me, she believed in the product, and knew that it would attract investors.

From Paper to Digital

We reached a payment agreed where Bianca would be paid in full once HerHeadquarters received its first investment deal. The next few months were an all-time high for me. Seeing an idea that once floated around in my head make its way to paper, then transform into a digital prototype is was one of the highlights of this journey. Shortly after, we began user testing, making further adjustments based off of feedback.

The further along HerHeadquarters became, the more traction we made. Women entrepreneurs across the U.S. were signing up for early access to the app, we were catching investor's attention, and securing brand partnerships all before we had a launched product. The closer we got to launching, the scarier it was. People who only had a surface value introduction to HerHeadquarters put us in the same category of other platforms or brands catering to women, even if we were completely unrelated, they just heard "for women". I felt consistent pressure, most of which was self-applied, but I still felt it.

I became obsessed with all things HerHeadquarters. My biggest fear was launching and disappointing my users. With a national target audience, a nonexistent marketing budget, and many misconceptions regarding collaborating, I didn't know how to introduce this new brand in a way that distinctly made it clear who were targeting and who we were different from.

I second guessed myself all the time.

A 'Submit' button has never in life been more intimidating. In May 2019, HerHeadquarters was submitted to the Apple and Google play stores and released to women entrepreneurs in select U.S. cities. We've consistently grown our user base and seen amazing collaborations take place. I've grow and learned valuable lessons about myself personally and as a leader. This experience has taught me to trust my journey, trust my hard work, and always let honesty and integrity lead me. I had to give myself permission to make mistakes and not beat myself up about it.

I learned that a hundred "no's" is better than one "yes" from an unfit partner. The most valuable thing that I've learned is keeping my users first. Their feedback, their challenges, and suggestions are valuable and set the pace for the future of HerHeadquarters, as a product and a company. I consider it an honor to serve and cater to one of the most neglected markets in the industry.