Last week, the United States Soccer Federation reached a landmark collective bargaining agreement with the United States men’s and women’s national teams, which provides identical match payouts for all players.
The terms include winnings-sharing of the World Cup payout, which is the pinnacle of financial rewards in sport. It’s an important milestone to celebrate, but we also need to pause and watch how it can unfold.
Cindy Parlow Cone, president of US Soccer and a former World Cup champion, said she believes the equality stance of this agreement should have “international ramifications in sport and in the business world”.
Former USWNT co-captain Megan Rapinoe called it a lot but referred to it as “the basement,” meaning there’s still a long way to go before we achieve true equality.
This agreement has been a long time coming and the seismic change for girls and women who play soccer is worth celebrating. This was a hard-won battle on top of other struggles for back pay and equal treatment.
I believe the players and teams behind this deal accepted it because of its historic progress, but the women probably didn’t get everything they wanted and deserved.
Specifically, there are three key areas that could influence – or undermine – the deal’s impact on equal pay. They apply not only to women in sport, but also to businesses, organizations and the corporate world.
Avoid the performance pressure trap
There will be tremendous pressure on the USWNT in this new deal which is based on shared performance revenue. As the most successful women’s international football team in history – four World Cup titles, four Olympic gold medals and eight CONCACAF Gold Cups – they undoubtedly endure the highest expectations. more intense on the world stage.
This deal creates a whole new level of performance pressure, so they risk experiencing a historic performance bias against women.
Performance bias is a well-documented phenomenon where women are held to higher standards than men. They must have a proven past performance record to show their “worth”.
What does it look like? “Prove to me that you’ve already been successful before I consider promoting you or paying you what you’ve earned all along.”
On the other hand, men are judged on their potential. They are assumed to have a supporting performance and as such they are rated on, “how far can he go?”
Women deserve to be supported for their potential instead of carrying the enormous weight of constantly proving themselves. Imagine if every other sports team or corporation followed the lead of American football and simply waited for women to prove their worthy performance before tackling pay inequality?
How many female middle managers feel the resentment and burnout of side-to-side rotation compared to their male counterparts?
It is ubiquitous and devalues women’s time and potential.
As a workforce strategist, I talk all the time to women working in multinational corporations who are subject to the negative cycle of performance bias that derails their career trajectory and engagement.
Perfectionism is a trap that women identify with much more than men – as girls they are taught to exceed expectations in every role they play. Perfect manager, perfect teammate, perfect coach, perfect mom, perfect wife, perfect sister – the list goes on.
The long road traveled by the remarkable women who have fought for that next-gen contract while maintaining their stellar track records unwittingly puts pressure on young players to keep winning.
What is the best strategy to limit performance bias?
Invest in women earlier and improve programs for girls. Increase support for women’s soccer development programs and women’s leadership organizations that teach them how to perform and succeed on their own terms with confidence and conviction.
Male allies need to talk and act
Women’s mental well-being and performance benefit from a genuine sense of belonging and support. The US Soccer agreement is based on cooperation and respect between male and female players, as well as their managers and staff.
If leaders are not extremely inclusive and view alliance as a core value, resentment will build on both sides.
Over the past six years, I’ve helped set up several corporate alliance programs focused on raising awareness of unconscious bias and training men to sponsor and advocate for female talent.
Men ask how to initiate appropriate mentoring relationships with women and how to speak on behalf of their teammates. The path to true equity – beyond pay – requires a concerted effort at all levels with visible and vocal male executives leading by example.
The alliance must start early and be intentional. Sports generally move to gender-based teams in elementary school. How might we continue to mix and build alliances across identity to ensure true universal support in the early stages of sport and business?
The coaches, staff and sports administration behind these teams must be responsible for combating bias, including holding members accountable for biased behavior. Everyone benefits when equity and inclusion are priorities on and off the pitch. We need to see productive examples of male and female proteges in sport and business, in addition to greater investment in women’s sport.
A new era for pay transparency
Earlier this year, there was a $22 million wage settlement for USWNT female players based on back-wage disputes, but that amount was only a third of what the women wanted. After so many battles lost and fought in their fight for equal pay, this echoes the urgency of greater pay transparency.
National Football Hall of Famer Abby Wambach’s speech at a Time’s Up event in 2019, where she spoke out about the lack of salary security in her retirement, inspired Oscar winner Natalie Portman , to help launch the first-ever majority female-owned women’s soccer team, LA’s Angel. City football club.
In another example, I met Jessica McDonald (Racing Louisville FC) in 2019 after playing and winning the fourth USWNT FIFA World Cup. She was the only mother for the USWNT team during this championship and had brought her son, Jeremiah, to the last matches in France.
Jessica shared with me that behind all that glory, she had been the most traded player at club level – moving her son multiple times – and packing boxes for Amazon in the off-season to make ends meet. As a woman of color and a single mother, she had to struggle not only with the barriers of unequal pay, but also with job flexibility and the demands of caregivers.
As an advisor for several MBA programs across the country, I have observed an increased openness on salary and compensation, especially among women. Those who attend my corporate workshops are frustrated with the opaque talent management process during the promotion cycle years. They rarely have a sense of the magnitude of the pay rise if they get the title upgrade, which is why women are drawn to offers from new employers who are above the salary range of their promotion.
So what can we learn from the American football agreement to encourage more dialogue on pay transparency?
Share where you are now. Be detailed and open about your organization’s performance and compensation management process. Everyone deserves more intentional guidance on compensation guidelines and opportunities.
US Soccer is the governing body and steward of sport for the American public – their leadership decisions are crucial. While there is certainly room for celebration, the men and women of the organization need to stay aligned to achieve the best results.
This means taking deliberate action in these three key risk areas to ensure this victory is a real game-changer for women. we have just started.