With the recent FIFA World Cup hosted in Qatar, a tournament filled with fraud, homophobia, and discrimination, it felt timely to discuss a win in the sports world that positively impacts female players – the US Women’s Soccer Team achieving equal pay to the Men’s team.
Historically, there has been an extreme wage gap between men and women in the workplace. On average, women lose about $1.6 trillion due to the wage gap. In 2021, white women were paid 73 cents, Black women 64 cents, Latina women 54 cents, and Indigenous women 51 cents for every dollar paid to a white man. Due to inequitable work policies, rampant sexism, and discrimination in the workplace, the wage gap has persisted and women have continued to fight for pay parity. After years of fighting, the US Women’s Soccer team has finally achieved pay parity – what does this mean for the war on the wage gap?
First of all – what is pay parity and why is it so hard to achieve?
Pay parity is, “the practice of paying people equitably…in the same job and location…regardless of their race, gender, sexuality, or any other identity.” Although pay party is the ultimate goal for closing the wage gap, it’s challenging to achieve it with current sexist, discriminatory, and racist practices in the workplace that impede progress toward equity. Such reasons include a lack of workplace support for family caregiving, poor support of workplace discrimination initiatives and/or harassment initiatives.
Despite anti-discrimination laws in place, many work environments have not taken the initiative to enforce these laws or create family-friendly policies that would be conducive for women to thrive in their careers. The National Partnership for Women and Families stated that “The Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as executive branch initiatives to collect pay information and promote fair pay, are critically important to uncovering and eliminating discriminatory workplace practices that harm women.” The current issue is that many of the organizations that would enforce these policies lack the funding and resources needed in order to truly make an impact in closing the wage gap.
In addition to discrimination, many work environments do not support family-friendly policies that would allow women to have more control over their family-planning decisions. The National Partnership for Women and Families also stated that “access to comprehensive reproductive health care…allows women to plan out and control their lives, enabling them to pursue education and career opportunities, and can increase workforce attachment and wages over time.” As of 2019, 91.3% of families with children have at least one working parent and without these fair policies in place, many women will be pigeonholed into sacrificing their career growth in order to take care of their children. Family-friendly policies would include comprehensive parental leave, remote work opportunities, paid childcare, and access to reproductive health care.
As women strive to achieve pay parity, the continuous discrimination and lack of enforcement for equal pay have posed as challenges. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, “[d]espite the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963…unless something changes, women and men who work full time, year-round will not reach pay parity on average until 2059 – and not until 2133 for Black women or 2206 for Latinas. Right now, the lack of supportive policies and bias combine to make closing the wage gap elusive.”
A few of the potential policy changes that would impact the wage gap would be a higher minimum wage, stronger protections against workplace harassment, and increased funding to investigate and enforce fair pay practices. One organization, the US Women’s Soccer team, has finally achieved pay parity. How did they do it?
Long Shadow of Pay Inequity
Men’s and women’s sports teams have historically had a wide wage gap, despite the success and history of the teams. Los Angeles Sparks and President of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, Nneka Ogwumike, recently spoke about the wage gap within the sports industry. Interviewer Carla Harris noted that “the differences between how the WNBA and NBA operated became glaring. The disparities range from not allowing teams to charter flights to systemic issues such as lower salaries. [In 2022], WNBA players earned 44 times less than their male counterparts in the NBA, according to pay data reported by NPR.” Even when women’s teams have more success than their male counterparts, they still receive lower pay, treatment, and benefits. This has led to nearly half of the WNBA athletes playing overseas in order to supplement their income – even after Brittney Griner was detained in Russia.
Women have been challenging this status quote in the last few decades and have begun to find success. One of the great examples of that was the WNBA helped pass the Collective Bargaining Agreement, or CBA, passed in 2020 which would help players negotiate their salaries and increase family-friendly policies in the workplace.
Ogwumike continued “The [Collective Bargaining Agreement] was monumental because we had implemented the most changes that we had seen since the existence of our league and most specifically salary and compensation.” The CBA offered players a chance to make more money, and proactively thought about and included motherhood and benefits for working moms. While not the whole enchilada, it definitely is a starting point. The WNBA provided a great example of fighting the war on the wage gap, especially in the sports industry. The US Women’s Soccer team is the culmination of that hard work with their pay parity achievement.
The WNBA is just one example of the challenges that women face in professional sports. The USNWT has, unsurprisingly, felt many of the hurdles to achieving fair compensation and treatment as their male counterparts. This has been a battle for years and the payoff (quite literally) is finally being seen.
According to Time, “in 2016, five players first filed a wage discrimination claim with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission” and the legislative discussions started. In April 2020, a judge ruled against the women in the equal pay suit, but a newly appointed US Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone implied that the organization was willing to negotiate going forward despite the negative ruling. Cone used the opportunity that the women’s CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) was expiring in 2021 to push forward pay parity. By working with the Men’s team, albeit having difficult discussions, the team was able to come together and sign the new CBA that would allow women to be paid equally to the men’s teams.
What did the USWNT achieve?
The US Women’s National Team, or USWNT, has achieved an incredible feat in the soccer world – apart from, you know, winning four Women’s World Cup titles, four Olympic gold medals, and nine CONCACAF Gold Cups. Earlier in 2022, The U.S. Soccer Federation announced that the women’s and men’s teams would be paid the same amount. According to NPR, “the federation [agreed] to pay the two teams equally in the next union contract and give the women’s team $22 million in back pay…Both teams will also have the same framework for sharing in commercial and ticket revenue.”
This historic settlement inspired fellow soccer players around the world to re-evaluate their compensation in the sport. According to the New York Times, “in Canada, the women’s team — the biggest regional rival to the U.S. and a leading contender to win next summer’s Women’s World Cup — has drawn a line in the sand with its federation, saying it will not accept any new contract that does not guarantee equal pay between men and women.” The deal for the USWNT has made waves throughout the international sporting community as a landmark decision, although it’s not the first team to achieve this goal. In 2017, Norway became the first country to announce pay parity amongst its players with New Zealand, Brazil, Australia, England, Ireland, Spain, and the Netherlands following in the years after.
“The new U.S. Soccer agreement is different: The American teams will be paid the same, dollar for dollar, for competing for their country because they have agreed to pool their World Cup prize money.” This is the true pay parity that the women’s team was looking for and it was an incredible outcome to see for the organization as a who.e
Although achieving pay parity across all sports, such as the WNBA, is a difficult feat that will require intense policy change and tenacity, the USWNT’s achievement brings women one step closer to closing the wage gap. This will be a reminder to all the women’s teams, groups, and organizations that change is possible and that we cannot stop fighting for equal pay. And don’t forget to support USWNT and many other teams at the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Can we talk about how much less of a marketing budget the women’s tournament has compared to the men’s? That’s a story for another article.