I have to admit, I get emotional watching Venus Williams play tennis. Did you see that game last night against Petra Kvitova? Wow. Just wow. She is where she is against all odds, playing the best tennis of her life, “at her age,” after battling an autoimmune disease, when few people (but herself) thought she could make a comeback. She does it through enormously hard work and focus and humor and optimism — and at a time when optimism can feel hard to come by.
Another reason I get emotional watching Venus is that she plays for something more than herself.
You may be aware that Venus was instrumental in closing the gender pay gap in tennis. So she has not only served as an inspiration to other women, but they literally make more moneybecause of her.
You may also be aware that Venus is an investor in Ellevest. She has said that she believes it can be harder to be a professional woman than a professional tennis player.
Really??? Can going to work in an office building be harder than putting in hours and hours of practice, weight training, eating right, recovering from injuries, traveling the world, and keeping your mental focus, not to mention picking yourself up from a public loss in front of the world and getting back out on the court?
Some days it is harder.
Venus’s logic is that all she has to do is be great and win and they can’t ignore her. But a professional woman can be great and still work for a bad boss, or not get funding for her business, or be passed over because of “cultural fit.”
When it comes to our careers, the justice of sport simply doesn’t exist. The gender work achievement gap — in which men are promoted at a greater rate than women — exists regardless of the quality of work. The gender funding gap — which makes it especially hard for a woman entrepreneur to get venture capital for her business — exists regardless of the quality of ideas. And the ever-lingering gender pay gap isn’t showing signs of closing (and these days it may even be going backwards).
In other words, it can be less clear what “winning” is.
So we’re left trying to close these gaps and change the game at the same time — with the ultimate goal of helping women get more money. Pulling this double duty isn’t easy, but we’re now familiar with some options that may help us: investing is a means to give women the potential to make more money. Crowdfunding for business capital is another. Supporting other women’s businesses is yet another, since success can beget success.
Venus may have put it best last night on how she pulled off her stunning win: “You can’t just sit back and hope. I didn’t want to hope. I wanted to be doing something about my future.”
With more financial power, professional women can have more opportunities for more wins. Bad bosses, gender biases, and cultural fit issues be damned.
This article originally appeared in Ellevest's newsletter, What The Elle.