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Tennis champion Venus Williams on gender pay inequality: ‘Can’t solve the problem’ unless men step up

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President Biden laid out a $1.8 trillion proposal that includes spending on child care and paid leave, benefits that will help spur the economic recovery and create more equal opportunities for women in the workplace, in his first address to Congress Wednesday night.

Congress took a step towards better protecting women’s jobs and pay earlier this month after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Paycheck Fairness Act. But that legislation faces strong opposition from Republicans in the Senate.

As lawmakers debate the bill, well-known athletes like Venus Williams, remain vocal on the issue, using their platforms to fight for equal pay. Williams, who spearheaded the movement in tennis to secure equal pay at all four Grand Slams, told Yahoo Finance that closing the gender gap requires bringing attention to the issue as well as action on an international level.

“Most people do not know that women earn 82 cents to every dollar that men earn,” four-time Olympic gold medalist and seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams recently told Yahoo Finance. “So without education, without speaking about it, people will not know the inequalities.”

“I can't stop until we are equal and I hope that's as soon as possible in my lifetime. I'll do everything that I can while I'm here to make it equal,” Williams added.

Venus Williams of the US serves to Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands during their men's singles match on the fifth day at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, Friday July 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
Venus Williams of the US serves to Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands during their men's singles match on the fifth day at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, Friday July 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

According to the National Women’s Law Center, women working full-time are typically paid just 82 cents for every dollar a man earns. That means in order for women to earn the equivalent of what their male counterparts earned in 2020, women would have had to work well into 2021, until March 24, 2021 (Equal Pay Day) to be exact. And the wage gap between working mothers and fathers is even wider. Mothers working full-time are on average paid just 75 cents for every dollar paid to fathers.

As leaders in the public and private sectors work to address the issue, Williams told Yahoo Finance that it’s imperative men are involved in the conversation.

“It has to be a group of people, which include men and women talking about this issue so that we can solve it together,” said Williams. “Traditionally, men are in more positions of power, so if they aren't a part of the discussion, then we can't solve the problem.”

Brand partnerships need to be ‘authentic’

Williams has advocated for gender equality through her brands, which include activewear EleVen and plant-based protein company Happy Viking, as well as several business partnerships.

In a recent letter Williams penned on gender equality, she wrote the "shocking statistics" around pay inequality inspired her to start the inaugural #PrivilegeTax campaign, where several brands donated 19 cents from every order to benefit the Girls Inc. of Greater Los Angeles.

Getting involved with brands that have similar values and priorities is key for Williams, who recently announced a partnership with Venus Concept, a global medical aesthetic technology leader. She told Yahoo Finance that she partners with firms that fit in with what she believes in. “Because if it doesn't, it's not authentic,” she said.

“Obviously things don't happen overnight but I think within our own organization, we have absolutely made sure that our team is equally paid for the types of roles that they're doing,” Venus Concept CEO Dom Serafino told Yahoo Finance. “Female empowerment, we're really all about that. We believe that cultural diversity is also really important when we sell in 65 countries around the world. And because Venus is known, universally, we just felt it was a really great fit for us, beyond the name itself, and how we could use that.”

Seana Smith anchors Yahoo Finance Live’s 3-5 p.m. ET program. Follow her on Twitter @SeanaNSmith

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