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Olympic track star Allyson Felix learned the power of saying ‘no’

March 8, 2022, 2:13 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! The Supreme Court declines to consider Bill Cosby’s conviction, women’s labor force participation rate dropped last month, and Allyson Felix learned the power of saying ‘no.’ Happy International Women’s Day!

– Run for it. Allyson Felix, the most decorated American Olympian in track and field, famously stood up to Nike in 2019 for failing to provide maternity protections during her pregnancy, and after the difficult delivery of her daughter, Camryn. “I’ve been one of Nike’s most widely marketed athletes. If I can’t secure maternity protections, who can?” she wrote in a New York Times op-ed that spurred a Congressional inquiry, public outcry, and a new maternity policy for all Nike-sponsored athletes.

Since telling the world about her postpartum pressure to return to performance shape, following a life-threatening emergency C-section that placed her infant in the neonatal intensive care unit, the champion runner has been busy.

She first inked an industry-shifting deal with new sponsor Athleta, the fast-growing Gap-owned athletic apparel brand that promised Felix, its first-ever sponsored athlete, her own line of activewear and pregnancy protections. Then came the launch of her own lifestyle brand, Saysh. To cap it off, Felix wore her own brand’s sneakers at the 2021 Tokyo Games where she won her 10th Olympic medal. Crossing the finish line to secure the bronze medal tied Felix as the most decorated U.S. track athlete in Olympic history.

Allyson Felix of Team United States reacts after winning the gold medal in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Allyson Felix of Team United States reacts after winning the gold medal in the Women’s 4 x 400m Relay Final on day fifteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 07, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
Patrick Smith—Getty Images

For International Women’s Day, Felix spoke to Fortune about learning to say no and the power and freedom that comes from establishing clear boundaries.

This Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What was at risk when speaking out about your experience with Nike?

I risked my future as a sponsored athlete. As a track and field athlete, the majority of my salary came from a shoe company and I was walking away from that. There was the financial burden, and the emotional toll.

I remember having this moment where I was like, ‘I feel like I’m losing everything. I might not be able to run anymore. I might never have another sponsor.’ I had to come to terms with being okay with that.

What does saying no look like for you today?

It’s blocking out time for a day for myself. It’s saying no to some of the obligations on my schedule in order to be able to show up and say yes for myself.

How do you know when it’s the right time to say yes?

I’ve faced all the scary things. And now I’m able to prioritize the things that are important to me. Saying yes has to be purposeful and meaningful.

You won an Olympic medal while wearing shoes from your brand, Saysh. What did that moment mean to you?

It was the proudest moment I’ve ever had at the Olympics. It was the first time that running at the Olympics was bigger than the race and competing for gold. It was really about representing women who had been told that their stories were over. I was told that my story was over—that I was too old, that I was a mother and my best performances were behind me. To be able to say, ‘I’m going to do this myself and I’m going to do this in my own way,’ it was really about standing up for what I believe in.

To be able to cross the line and look down and see the shoes that are the physical embodiment of everything I went through—it was a special moment. I don’t necessarily think the world needs more shoes. Yes, it’s a shoe. But we need better companies. And we need companies that see women wholly. That’s what it’s about.

Emma Hinchliffe
emma.hinchliffe@fortune.com
@_emmahinchliffe

The Broadsheet is Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Subscribe here.

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Final decision. The Supreme Court declined to take up Bill Cosby's overturned sexual assault conviction case, leaving in place the Pennsylvania court decision that allowed Cosby to walk free "on the grounds that his due process rights had been violated." CNN

- Pandemic burdens. We talk a lot about the stresses faced by working parents during the pandemic. But what about the specific burdens felt by childless women? One woman describes passing out during a 3 a.m. Zoom call and pushing through on a launch after months of taking on work, in part, because colleagues assumed she didn't have much else going on. Elle

- Advocates for education. For International Women's Day, Malala Yousafzai curated a selection of pieces for the Economist. Read Yousafzai's view on the necessity for girls' education; climate activist Vanessa Nakate's argument for how girls' education can help solve the climate crisis; and inventor Kiara Nirghin's piece on the gender divide in STEM. Economist

- Motherhood myth. Alyssa Jaffee, partner at 7wireVentures, writes about the myth of work-life balance for Fortune. Jaffee says that she's learned to embrace the "imbalance and friction" of parenthood and dealmaking in venture capital. Fortune

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Esther Dyson announced her resignation from the board of the Russian search business Yandex because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. "It has become impossible for the team to continue to provide a free and open platform for information for the Russian public without breaking the law," she wrote in a statement. Newell Brands exec Laurel Hurd will become president and CEO of Interface, Inc. Melody Lee joins Herman Miller as VP, brand marketing. Board management platform Boardable hired Natalie Cunningham as VP of marketing; Krista Martin as VP of product and growth; and Celine North as VP of sales. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- In treatment. Women "are more likely than men to have severe reactions to chemotherapy treatments," research has shown. But a new study suggests that women also "experience greater toxicity with targeted therapies and immunotherapies"—the treatments meant to assuage some of the toxicities of chemo. STAT News

- Participation rate. The February jobs report revealed a drop in the labor force participation rate for women between the ages of 25 and 54 for the first time in five months. Women's participation rate is now at 75%, compared to an increase to 88% for men. Bloomberg

- Red alert. Pixar's next movie will break a glass ceiling. Domee Shi is the first woman to direct a Pixar film solo with her new feature Turning Red. The Oscar-winning director behind the beloved short film Bao, Shi started at Pixar as an intern in 2011. Her movie follows the story of a teen girl struggling with puberty who turns into a giant red panda when she feels overwhelmed. New York Times

ON MY RADAR

Maternity wards are shuttering across the U.S. during the pandemic Vox

My miscarriage, in photos The Cut

Queen Elizabeth makes a rare private donation to Ukraine's refugees Vanity Fair

PARTING WORDS

"Women are a part of the church. Which is why it is so important that they have a voice, that they participate."

-Sister Nathalie Becquart, a French Roman Catholic nun. She'll serve as under secretary of the Synod of Bishops in 2023 and will be the first woman "with a right to vote at such a high-level Vatican gathering." 

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