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Scoring Small Victories in a Battle for Pay Equity

U.S. Women’s Soccer Star Megan Rapinoe Discusses the Fight for Equal Pay


Megan Rapinoe and Scott Cawood enjoy a moment of levity during WorldatWork's 2019 Pay Equity Symposium in Philadelphia.

Megan Rapinoe walked onto the stage at WorldatWork’s 2019 Pay Equity Symposium in Philadelphia in front of an audience of nearly 200 total rewards and compensation professionals to discuss an issue that’s top of mind for many in the profession: pay equity.

Rapinoe is a star for the 2019 World Cup-champion United States women’s national soccer team. The team has become a major voice for pay equity, equality and more equal representation for all. She sat down for a compelling Q&A with WorldatWork president and CEO Scott Cawood as a part of the symposium’s keynote.

After an entertaining true-or-false segment on Rapinoe’s background that involved attendees, Cawood engaged Rapinoe with a series of nuanced questions that led to her unique insight on the issue of pay equity.

Rapinoe and others on the U.S. women’s national team are currently in the midst of a legal battle with their employer, U.S. Soccer, over claims of unequal pay. Rapinoe spoke about how her life has changed so much when she and her teammates originally began to fight for equal pay following the 2015 World Cup in which they defeated Japan 5-2 in the final. At that stage, she said, they were not prepared or organized enough for the fight that was ahead of them. But in the years since, they’ve created a more united and educated front — and it’s made a world of difference in their pursuit for equal pay.

“After the 2015 World Cup, we were not prepared to capture and capitalize on what was happening,” Rapinoe said. “We’ve become more educated and more organized, which has helped us take the next step — the more we’ve done that, the more progress we’ve made.”

Cawood followed up Rapinoe’s reflection on the beginning of the hunt for pay equity in 2015 by asking about a significant moment in the 2019 World Cup final in France when the crowd chanted “equal pay” amid the U.S.’s victory over the Netherlands.

Read more: The Accidental Activist: Megan Rapinoe and the Fight for Equal Pay

“It was an incredible moment,” Rapinoe said. “It was a moment that I think transcended sports and to know that so many of the world governing bodies were there — FIFA representatives were there, as was the president of France — they had to be there in that moment and they had to hear those people. It wasn’t just for us, it was everyone chanting for themselves.”

That sentiment transitioned to a key and interesting conversation about how important it is for men and women to be united on the front of pay equity. To that end, the U.S. Men’s National Team Players Association put out a statement in support of the women’s national team’s pursuit of equal pay, which included some harsh words for the U.S. Soccer Federation in the process.

“That was very important, because having the two teams aligned I think is the most important approach,” Rapinoe said. “We’re both in the labor force and U.S. Soccer is our employer. That meant a lot coming from them, knowing obviously that they get dragged a little bit when it comes to equal pay. A more united front is the best approach to take.”

Cawood then referenced a quote by Rapinoe’s college soccer coach, Michelle French at the University of Portland, who said the women’s national team is inspiring a generation of young girls and “even boys as well.” This, Rapinoe said, is the essence of what the fight for pay equality is all about.

“It would be so much more helpful if everyone was as pissed off about pay inequity as we are,” she said. 

The crowd in attendance reveled in a truly fun and thought-provoking exchange between the pair and when Cawood turned the mic over to the attendees, they did their best to steal the show.

Audience members asked a wide range of questions, including what Rapinoe would recommend compensation professionals do to engage their C-suite more on the issue of pay equity. She said you should constantly be having the conversation with not only those who make the decisions, but with those with whom those decisions affect.

“This ongoing conversation helps break down stereotypes,” Rapinoe said. “To constantly open that space up and make it a comfortable environment for people to talk about pay I believe is important.”  

Cawood echoed that sentiment by imploring those in attendance to work toward addressing the gender pay gap. “It’s an issue — there are absolutely gaps,” he said.

Rapinoe fielded questions that focused on how her team’s fight for equal pay could be inspiring to other national teams in the world and she discussed some of the inconsistencies with U.S. Soccer’s argument disputing their claim about pay inequity.

She also sent the crowd into a bit of a frenzy when she candidly responded to how important it was to their pay equity case for them to win the 2019 World Cup.

“It doesn’t really have to be about winning and we were saying that on the outside, but on the inside we were like ‘we have to f***ing win,’” Rapinoe said, which generated a chorus of laughter in the audience. “Of course we all wanted to win, because we’re competitive, but we all were like ‘we’re not doing all of this for nothing.’ I think as a team, historically and now, we understand the power of winning and how winning has been tied to major boosts to our sport and growing it … and this was just that on OD. It sure did not hurt our case to win the World Cup.”

But perhaps Rapinoe’s most insightful response in a night that was full of them, came to a question from a female attendee who empathized with Rapinoe’s frustration in her battle for equal pay. The question referenced Rapinoe’s earlier mention that sometimes it feels like you’re banging your head against the wall in trying to tackle the issue, but Rapinoe said she has to remind herself that it’s a process.

“Although it can be frustrating at times, I think we really are seeing change happen,” she said. “The game is better than where it was when I started. Sometimes it’s hard, because you just want to have pay equity. But it doesn’t work that way, so I constantly have to try and remind myself and my teammates that it doesn’t just look like one thing and it’s not going to just appear one day out of nowhere. You just have to remain positive and focus on the small victories while understanding that we’re working toward it.”

About the Author

Brett Christie is a staff writer at WorldatWork.

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