Debate over pay equity for female athletes mirrors contentious pay inequality in US workforce

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The U.S. Women’s Soccer World Cup Champions are back in the United States.

The Women’s World Cup tournament is over, and the U.S. Women’s National Team has come home with a controversy in tow. As Megan Rapinoe and her teammates prepare for Wednesday’s celebratory parade in New York City, the team found itself at the heart of the narrative concerning the gender equity pay gap.

Fans at Sunday’s World Cup finale could be heard chanting “equal pay” repeatedly, protesting in support of higher pay for American female soccer stars.

A recent survey from John Jay College suggested the average women’s soccer player makes about $40,000 per year, which is a third less than the $60,000 her male counterpart makes. All 28 members of the U.S. Women’s National Team recently filed suit against the United States Soccer Federation, demanding equal wages. Television ratings from the Women’s World Cup event showed more viewers than garnered by the men’s edition of the sport from the summer of 2018.

The concern over soccer wages for females mirrored the debate concerning gender equity in the U.S. workforce. Research from the American Association of University Women showed 80 cents on the dollar when compared to their male counterparts. The call for a level playing field sounded familiar to Linda Berube, who works with the Kansas City chapter of the AAUW.

“We want women to realize their full potential,” Berbube said on Monday.

Berube shared concerning numbers. AAUW statistics claim women in Missouri and Kansas barely make four fifths of what men in the metro do, and the two states are ranked in the lower 20 nationally. AAUW said Missouri women make 78.7% of what men do, ranking the Show-Me State 34th in the union. Kansas women, according to AAUW, are paid 76.9% of every dollar paid to men, ranking Kansas 42nd nationally.

“There is a gap that exists and continues to exist and until our government, our employers and our people step up ans say we need to make this right,” Berube said. “The women’s soccer team is an excellent example of women speaking up and saying this isn’t right. Let’s make a difference and people are listening to them and that’s important.”

The outpouring of support from the women’s sports world has soccer greats sounding off about the issue of U.S. pay inequity for women.

“It means no more change is coming and that we’re not going to be ignored you know, daughters and moms and sisters. Everybody wants equality and now the entire world is is kind of understanding what’s at stake,” Michelle Akers, two-time Women’s World Cup champion, said.

“Obviously we brought the lawsuit, but this just sort of blows it out of the water. Is it even about that any more, or is it just kind of about doing the right thing?” Rapinoe said on Monday. “I think that the federation is in a unique position to kind of ride this wave of good fortune and get on board, and hopefully set things right for the future,”

Berube said one practice that can lead to change is to avoid preassigning gender-based subordinate roles to women, and to continue placing women in leadership roles. Strong female figures from the sports world should merely be the start.

“The truth is that more women are the heads of households than men. That’s why this is such an important issue for women and families,” Berube added.

AAUW offers an online course in negotiation, meant to help female job applicants sharpen their skills when applying for work. The course also encourages women to ask for more money and equal benefits as they go through the hiring process.

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