I can’t say I have been intimidated by anyone.”
How many of us can say that?
But Serena Williams said it. To a reporter who dared ask her if she was intimidated by a better-looking rival.
Typical, some might say.
You can become the most successful woman in the world in your field … yet people STILL dare to comment about your looks.
Serena certainly has graced the covers of enough magazines to claim her own “supermodel good looks.” Yet her appearance is the least of her worries at the moment.
She’s a new mother. Besotted by her baby girl, she’s not sure how motherhood is going to impact her future.
Should she give up her incredible career to raise more children? Or is her professional peak yet to come?
For many superstar high-performing women, pregnancy is the beginning of the end.
The New York Times found that “many of the country’s largest and most prestigious companies still systematically sideline pregnant women. They pass them over for promotions and raises. They fire them when they complain.”
The bias against mothers in the workforce is real.
Becoming a mother lowers a woman’s hourly wage. For highly skilled, highly paid white women, each child constitutes a 10% drop in income.
(Men earn more once they become fathers, a 6% increase per child.)
Serena Williams is not your average businesswoman. She’s an athlete—and her business is winning.
Yet she, too, was penalized for taking time off to start a family.
She wasn’t given a seeding for the 2018 French Open, despite being ranked No. 1 in the world prior to having a child.
And that’s been okay, under the existing Women’s Tennis Association rules.
If a player has lost ranking due to being out of the game—whether it was due to injury or pregnancy—she won’t get the benefit of a protected seeding at tour events.
Katrina Adams, the president and chairwoman of the United States Tennis Association, thinks that’s unfair.
She compares it to a female executive being forced to return to the company at an entry-level position after coming back from maternity leave.
She wants female tennis players to know that “it’s okay to go out and be a woman and become a mother and then come back to your job.”
Historically, it hasn’t been that way.
But Serena has a knack for disrupting the status quo.
After weeks of deliberation, officials seeded her 25th at Wimbledon, even though her pregnancy leave had dropped her rank to 183rd in the world.
With any luck, this is a sign of shifting times.
Professional women should be allowed to start a family without jeopardizing their careers. Surely we all agree on that.
But pregnancy discrimination claims are at an all-time high.
The Center for Economic Studies, a research arm of the U.S. Census Bureau, found that the gender pay gap is minimal two years before a couple has their first child. One year after that first child is born? The husband makes over $25,000 more than his wife.
Part of that may be due to entrenched attitudes about what pregnancy does to a woman’s ability to perform on the job.
Serena wouldn’t agree. She won the Australian Open—her 23rd Grand Slam title—two months pregnant. She considers it the most badass thing she’d ever done.
She’s also living proof of the extraordinary accommodations mothers have to make to return to the workforce after pregnancy. She’s chosen to breastfeed her daughter, and the changes in her body have made playing a bit more difficult. She explains:
I’m in the locker room pumping before a match because my boobs are so big. When I pump, they go down a size or two and I go out and play.”
How many of us mothers can empathize!
Like many new mothers, Serena struggles between her powerful desire to be a mother and her powerful desire to fulfill the professional dreams that have driven her since she was very young.
She absolutely wants more children. “If I weren’t working, I’d already be pregnant,” she says.
She’s thought about giving her career up. “To be honest, there’s something really attractive about the idea of moving to San Francisco and just being a mom,” she told Vogue. “But not yet.”
She adds, “Knowing I’ve got this beautiful baby to go home to makes me feel like I don’t have to play another match. I don’t need the money or the titles or the prestige. I want them, but I don’t need them. That’s a different feeling for me.”
The one thing keeping her in the game?
She wants to be a role model for her daughter.
“I think sometimes women limit themselves,” she says. “I’m not sure why we think that way, but I know that we’re sometimes taught to not dream as big as men, not to believe we can be a president or a CEO, when in the same household, a male child is told he can be anything he wants. I’m so glad I had a daughter. I want to teach her that there are no limits.”
For standing up for her right to be a mother AND a professional career woman, we’re honoring Serena Williams as a #BrilliantBabe.
The world needs more women who are comfortable speaking out about the contradictions of motherhood and how difficult (and sometimes impossible) it is to have it all.
Serena sums it up in a commercial for Nike:
I’ve never been the right kind of woman. Oversized and overconfident. Too mean if I don’t smile. Too black for my tennis whites. Too motivated for motherhood. But I am proving, time and time again, there’s no wrong way to be a woman.”
Stay Tuned for More #BrilliantBabe Profiles
Here at Your Brilliance, we believe the best way to figure out how bright you’re able to shine is to look up to other woman who are doing what you’ve always wanted to do.
The women you see featured in glossy magazines, climbing sheer rock cliffs and heading Fortune 500 businesses and crafting unique Etsy art from the comfort of their own homes, got there on guts and faith.
They didn’t know if they’d be able to succeed at their dream. But each and every one made the decision to take the first step. And the second. And the third.
We hope these profiles of brilliant women inspire you to reach for your dreams.