The U.S. women’s world cup team was making headlines long before they arrived in France. But the press has often had as much to do with how outspoken they are about the unequal pay they receive in comparison to the men’s team. Their fight for equal pay has connected with fans (even those non-sports fans) who see themselves in the struggle.
That’s because, while it hardly bears repeating, the gender wage gap doesn’t end in soccer. Women earn less than men (around 20 percent less on average) and the gap widens even more for Black, Latinx, and Native women. The members of the U.S. National Team are often held up as role models for young female athletes — and with good reason.
But aspiring athletes aren’t the only people who can look up to this amazing, record-breaking team. Women of all ages can feel inspired even if they’ve never set foot on a soccer pitch. Here are six careers lessons we can all take from the Women’s National Team:
1. Know Your Worth
One thing that makes the pay disparity especially shocking is that the women’s team continually outshines the men’s in terms of wins and crowds. They’re doing their job better and bringing in more paying dollars — and are still making less. But because the women’s team knows their worth, they’ve been vocal advocates for themselves, going as far as to file a lawsuit. This has resulted in increased sponsorship and awareness about the disparity. While there is still a long way to go, even the changes we have seen thus far wouldn’t have happened if the players hadn’t known their own worth — and asked for what they are worth.
2. Celebrate & Support Each Other
It may seem like the definition of teamwork, but it isn’t necessarily written in the stars that the team will get along. After all, each of these women fought tooth and nail to get a spot on this team — months before, a teammate could have been seen as competition. But once the roster was released, they made a point to come together as a team, and that includes supporting and celebrating each other. (Scroll through any player’s Twitter feed if you want some excellent examples of high praise.) The returning players, about half the team, also have spoken about mentoring first timers to the World Cup. Two first-timers, Mallory Pugh and Rose Lavelle, have also spoken about how happy they are to see the other’s successes. “Mal told me she cried when I scored,” Lavelle told the Washington Post.
While our own workplaces might not have a trophy, it can be easy to let competitiveness creep in. Even comparing yourself to friends and even strangers can be a toxic way to feel less than inspired in a job or career path. Next time someone else’s triumph makes you feel less than great, remember instead the full-throated support these women are giving and try to practice the same.
3. It’s Hard For Women – But Harder For Women Of Color
The gender wage gap isn’t the only thing that carries over to sports. Crystal Dunn, a defender on Team USA, has been outspoken about how, as a Black woman, she needed to go “above and beyond” to be noticed. Like many in the 2019 roster, Dunn was inspired by the national team’s big win in 1999. But, unlike many of her teammates, Dunn didn’t see many players who looked like her. That team only had one non-white player. This year’s team is more diverse, but there’s still a long way to go. And, like with diversity everywhere, there is no magic fix. It's an uneven playing field (or pitch) that often favors white, affluent, connected people. The rest of us can remember to be allies and advocates when possible, both in life and in the workplace.
4. It’s About The Money – But It’s Also Not About The Money
Like with women in Hollywood agitating for equal pay, it can be easy for complaints to be dismissed because their salaries are still really high. But members of the team have been vocal that this isn’t just about the money.
For the players asking for more pay, they see it as a way to advocate for better funding for women’s soccer overall. “Yes we are fighting for equal compensation but we are also fighting for this larger picture of investment in both programs equally,” Midfielder Megan Rapinoe told Reuters back in April.
While asking for more money for yourself might not have as far-reaching consequences as the USWNT’s lawsuit, there are things that asking for more can give you beyond money. When you’re advocating for yourself, you’re helping shape your narrative in the workplace.
5. You Need A Team
Did the US women’s team celebrate too much in their record-breaking match against Thailand? It’s hard to ask that question without wondering if male players would be judged so harshly. Like with the wage gap, it can bring to mind office culture where women are undermined or ignored, and seen as pushy or bossy when they simply step up and do their job well. But faced with that reality, it can be inspiring to see the USWNT continue to celebrate, undeterred by critics. Sometimes, before the world cheers you on, you have to figure out how to be your own biggest fan.
6. Stay Focused On Your Goal
The US Women’s team has critics the world over — people who dismiss them, want to see them lose, or judge them unfairly. But they have repeatedly talked about a “bubble” that descends during the World Cup. Inside, it’s the team and their single-minded ambition to take home the cup. Outside are the distractions — and critics — that could throw them off their game. While the charges of “excessive celebration” were heard around the world, the team more or less missed it.
“We had heard that there were some things going on,” Sam Mewis told USA Today when asked about it. Such single-minded focus might be a luxury, but it can also be a lesson to the rest of us to find our own goals and go after them, with the help of your teammates cheering you on.