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Serena Williams’ $17,000 Truth Tax

Serena Williams’ $17,000 Truth Tax

I know we all saw what happened at the Serena Williams / Naomi Osaka final at the US Open.

Serena was accused of receiving coaching, standing up for herself when she was given a warning, being penalized a point, fighting back, being penalized a game. Look, the whole thing was messy and nobody acted perfectly — but the searing visual is of a white man perched above a black woman, penalizing her when many male tennis players have reacted far worse and been penalized far less. (And this only a few weeks after the president of the French Tennis Federation banned her amazing-looking-and-clot-reducing catsuit and said that she — the greatest player in the history of the game — should “respect the game.” Snort. The game should respect HER.)

A woman vocally standing up for herself.

And then we watched women supporting other women: Venus* in the stands, Serena’s sister and her archrival, 100% there for her. Serena wrapping her arm around Osaka in front of a booing crowd, asking fans to cheer for her first Grand Slam win.

Finally, in the post-match media interview, we saw a supremely successful woman recognizing her broader role in fighting “for women’s rights and for women’s equality” — and for the right of women to lose their temper in public.

And I mean, damn …

I don’t know about you, but I had goosebumps as I felt the weight of her situation unfold live. This was perhaps the most public display in memory of a woman at the top of her field being dressed down and penalized for things that — while, no, she probably shouldn’t have done them — male professionals at the top of their field often aren’t (as Andy Roddick and James Blake both tweeted).

It got me thinking about what we’re hearing from at-the-top-of-their-game women as we’ve been swiftly — and somewhat quietly — building out a new offering, Ellevest Private Wealth. It’s a tech-enabled investment offering by women, for women, with a focus (for those who are interested … which is 84% of women) on impact investing. Financial advisors from some of the top firms in the industry have joined us in search of an offering that authentically serves women and their families.

If you’ve been following us for any period of time, you know that we started out as a digital platform for women on their way to making it. We have a sign in our NYC office that says, “Why don’t women invest — and what can we do to change that?” In the process, we unintentionally overlooked women who had already “made it,” making the unspoken assumption that theirs was a different, more equal investing experience.

We were wrong.

Instead, we hear from these women that, even though they’re at the top — even though they’re definitively successful — they often still aren’t taken seriously by the financial services industry. Their option for investment advice is still 86% likely to be a man behind a mahogany desk, and many of them still feel condescended to.

They tell us that they increasingly recognize that they have been financially supporting an industry that hasn’t supported them and other women. (Need proof? The wealth management industry has been ranked #1, across a range of financial and healthcare businesses, on the incidence of sexual harassment; 22% of women say sexual harassment is highly prevalent.) No wonder she doesn’t feel seen or heard by the industry.

What are these women looking for instead? According to our research, she doesn’t want to give up competitive returns (of course, because she’s a badass). But she also believes that with her success comes some responsibility, and so she looks to answer the question, “How can I live a life focused on the things that really matter?” That increasingly includes how she spends and invests her money … with intention.

At Ellevest, you know we’re committed to being in this with all of you, innovating to solve gender financial inequality together. And we’re all in a moment. To shamelessly go back to the tennis theme, it’s the most critical game in the match; the sweat is dripping down our faces, and we need to decide — collectively, as Serena did: Are we going to stand up for ourselves? Are we going to support other women? Are we going to recognize our broader role in fighting for women’s equality? And maybe, just maybe, for the right to lose our tempers in public without causing Twitter to melt down?

P.S. I’m not even going to start in on that new Les Moonves news, or that searing op-ed from Joyce Maynard on J.D. Salinger’s predatory behavior. We’re seriously in a moment.

*Full disclosure: Venus Williams is an investor in Ellevest.

This article was originally published in Ellevest's newsletter, What The Elle. You can learn more here.


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