On the soccer pitch, Abby Wambach was a leader. Now, five-and-a-half months after she retired from the game after a 30-year career, she says she’s ready to keep leading – this time in the fight for gender pay equality.
In a painfully honest speech Thursday before some 6,500 at the Watermark Conference for Women in Silicon Valley, she, in effect, apologize for not having done more to help the cause when she played on the women’s US Soccer Team. “I turned this chapter and was like, ‘Gosh, I could have done more. I should have done more,'” she said, adding, “There’s so much frustration in my bones, because I could have done more.”
Wambach isn’t a part of the complaint that the Women’s U.S. Soccer Team has filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over pay discrepancies, and she told the crowd that after she retired, she reflected on her role, found it lacking and pledged to make it her cause. “Maybe I was a little too scared. Maybe I didn’t know what to say or how to say it. Maybe it’s so innately and deeply ingrained in my bones that I’m supposed to be grateful for getting a paycheck, that I’m supposed to be paid less than, treated less than, respected less than than. I didn’t want to rock the boat. … There will come a time in your life where you will turn the chapter and you will be angry that you didn’t rock the boat enough.”
She did say she’s proud of her former teammates for taking a stand.
“The women’s national team made in the twenties of millions of dollars and we’re still paid less than the men’s team – and the men’s team lost $2 million. That’s kind of big difference,” she said. “It’s so important that these women stand up, even if they’re not necessarily themselves going to make all the money. They still have to stand up and say what is right.”
Numbers cited in the EEOC filing show just how big a difference there is between the two teams. Players on the women’s team earn $1,350 for each win in friendlies play. Members of the men’s team take home $5,000 for a loss and between $9,375 and $17,625 for a win in similar games. If the men’s team qualifies for the World Cup, players split a $2.5 million pool. Women get nothing. And for a first place finish in the World Cup, women players get $75,000, while men get $9.375 million.
Despite this, says Wambach, there’s still a mistrust, even among women, when women entering the workforce today demand higher salaries.
“Why are we going to piss and moan about these women who are like ‘no, we deserve better?’,” she said. “When a millennial comes into your world and you, in the back of your mind, are like ‘you haven’t really earned anything yet,’ have a moment of celebration, especially for those women.”
Wambach said there are plenty of reasons for pay inequality, but one that need to be fixed is the shame that accompanies it. Women, she said, need to take a queue from those millennials and speak up for themselves, demanding that any sort of disrespect stops.
“If something bad happens, talk about it. … You have to,” she said.
Wambach, of course, knows a few things about bad things happening. Earlier this month, she was arrested for a DUI charge in Portland, Oregon. She immediately took responsibility for her actions – and even addressed it at the conference.
“I’ve made some mistakes, especially recently,” she said. “But I think it’s important that we talk not only about the elephants in our metaphoric rooms but acknowledge I made a mistake. It’s not going to define me, but it’s certainly going to impact me.”