But, as with other industries, women in athletics still face systemic gender inequality. Grete Eliassen, 31, champion skier and president of the WSF, says when she first started competing in skiing slopestyle, the major skiing organizations wouldn’t even allow women to participate. “We had to fight to be part of it,” Eliassen says. In 2005, when she won her first medal at the X Games, she found out the prize money for a women’s gold was only $2,000 — while her male counterpart made $45,000. “It was not that long ago that these things were so drastically different,” she says. “That’s why we’re here still, to promote the fight.”
These days, the WSF is dedicated to leveling the playing field for girls in sports by providing grants and scholarships, launching research initiatives, advocating for Title IX, and creating opportunities for girls to play sports. Participating in sports has a tremendous power to teach important skills that translate into all aspects of life, Eliassen says. Indeed, 65% of the women on Fortune’s 2017 Most Powerful Women list played sports competitively in either high school or college, sometimes both.
Research has shown that the problem is by the time they’re 14, girls drop out of sports at two times the rate of boys. But the WSF hopes to change that: “We’re trying to teach these skills [so that] the parity [isn’t] so big at such a super young age,” Eliassen says. “When you grow up, and you’ve already gotten past these battles [in sports], you can just step up, speak up, whatever it may be.”
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