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For International Women’s Day, Serena Williams Wants Us to Do More to Support Working Moms

If you read only one thing this International Women’s day, let it be Serena Williams’ op-ed on why empowering working mothers is important. The op-ed, published by Fortune, features key insights from Williams may give you a new appreciation for working moms, especially since Williams speaks from experience about it.

Writing as both a tennis icon and mom to daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian, Jr., Williams talked about the status of working women, beginning with her own experiences.

“Now that I have Olympia, she is my absolute priority — spending as much time as possible with her every day is so important to me,” she writes. “But I’m still training to win Grand Slams and sometimes I have to make hard choices about how I spend my time. I’ve cried over Olympia so many times that I’ve lost count. I cried when I stopped breastfeeding. I sat with Olympia in my arms, I talked to her, we prayed about it, and I told her, ‘Mommy has to do this.’ I cried when I missed Olympia’s first steps because I was in training. I’m honest about my struggles as a working mom because I want other women out there to know they are not alone. We have to show ourselves and our female counterparts compassion and reality.”

She also writes about understanding firsthand how devastating it is, as a working woman, to be penalized for taking maternity leave.

“When I returned to tennis from maternity leave, I was penalized for taking time off,” Williams explains. “My ranking dropped from #1 in the world to #453. That required me to face tougher competition earlier in the French Open, which led to a pectoral injury that forced me to drop out. I fought hard personally, making it to the Wimbledon final shortly after, but I also fought hard publicly against the biased ranking system. We must stop penalizing women when they return to their careers after having children.”

Earlier in the op-ed, Williams presents sobering stats on the challenges working women and mothers face today.

“As a board member of SurveyMonkey, I encouraged the company to conduct a pair of surveys that would help us better understand the adversity American women face when it comes to balancing their professional and personal lives. One focuses on the experiences of working parents, while the other delves into those of all women in the workforce. After reviewing the results, one thing is clear: many of us are facing strikingly similar challenges,” she writes.

Williams continues, “For starters, our data show that women are four times more likely to say they provide more childcare than their male partner — pulling a double shift at work and home. This contributes to the fact that nearly half of women say they have sacrificed career goals for their family. I know I did… The surveys also revealed that there’s a 10 percentage point difference in the share of men vs. the share of women who say they are ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ comfortable taking risks to advance their careers.”

But there’s one observation Williams makes in her op-ed that really sticks with us — and we think it should stick with you, too. It is: “While I think all women are superheroes, we are not superhuman and we need each other’s support. We need to give each other grace when we fall short—and when society sets unrealistic expectations or our workplaces have antiquated rules. We must band together and fight for what’s fair.”

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