She Shoots, She Scores…and Then She Gets Paid a Whole Lot Less

Wow. Talk about a textbook example of unequal pay. Five members of the U.S. Women’s Soccer team filed a charge with the EEOC yesterday accusing U.S. Soccer of sex-based wage discrimination.
As one of the players herself said, the numbers speak for themselves:

  • U.S. Women get a $75,000 bonus per player for winning the World Cup, while the men get an average of about $400,000;Photo creditL
  • U.S. Women can make $30,000 each for making the U.S. World Cup team, while the men are paid $68,750;
  • For all exhibition matches (aka “friendlies”), U.S. women are paid $1,350 per player for a win while each men’s player is paid between $9,375 and $17,625 for a win.

In total, the players are arguing that the U.S. Women’s team is paid nearly four times less than the men’s team, despite producing almost $20 million in revenues for U.S.
Soccer in 2015 due in part to their inspiring and dominating World Cup victory.
Hopefully this will be a wakeup call to all those who think the wage gap or pay discrimination doesn’t exist anymore. This is, unfortunately, a shining example of how women are valued less for the work they do.
But I’m not naïve (in part because I decided to subject myself to the always-scary comment section following the articles about this EEOC charge). I know many will learn of this charge and accuse the Women’s Soccer team of crying wolf.
But be wary of the rebuttals those naysayers will launch—these two in particular:

  • But this is what they negotiated; they should have done a better job negotiating”: U.S. Soccer itself has pointed to the women’s team’s pay negotiations as a defense for paying them so much less than the men. These kinds of rebuttals are common when women speak up for equal pay—“well, she should have negotiated” or “women are poor negotiators, whadyawant?” First of all, in court, pointing to the fact that a woman agreed to certain compensation is not a defense if the compensation is discriminatory. And relying on negotiations can itself lead to discriminatory pay. Women are less likely to negotiate, but studies have actually shown that even when they do, they are often perceived by their supervisors as being greedy, demanding, not nice, or less desirable candidates. So, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.U.S. Soccer points to the fact that the women’s team wanted a salary-based system instead of a bonus-centric plan—but even accounting for the different compensation structures, the disparities are still significant. Are we asking women to try to negotiate as well as the men and then just a little bit better to overcome their employers’ (conscious or subconscious) devaluing of their work?Moreover, some have noted that the women’s contract included provisions, such as maternity leave, not available to the men’s team. But is the negotiation field a fair field to play on when women can’t depend on their employer to provide maternity leave, but must include that as part of their negotiation?
  • “Market conditions between the women’s and men’s teams are vastly different”:
    In other words, the women players are worth less than the men due to market forces. The market forces argument is too often used by employers as a scapegoat for paying discriminatory wages. The argument basically goes, “women candidates are less desirable, so I don’t have to pay them as much to get them to accept the contract.” But accepting a “market forces” argument, allows an employer to take advantage of discrimination elsewhere in the market to pay discriminatory wages.Here, U.S. Soccer’s decision to point to the allegedly lower revenue brought in by the women’s teams is no less a scapegoat. In making this argument, U.S. Soccer has decided to take advantage of the supposed second-class status of women’s sports. By investing less in promoting the women’s team and compensating the women’s team at amounts not even close to the men’s team, U.S. Soccer is reinforcing the discrimination that women athletes have faced for generations. What’s more, the bona fides of their market forces argument are even in doubt—compared with the men’s team, the women’s team has won more championships and has the best television ratings. And it’s in dispute that the women’s team brings in less revenue than the men’s team; in 2015, the women’s team far exceeded revenue projections.

A lot of women are scared to speak up about the discrimination they face—bravo to the U.S. Women’s Soccer team for scoring a major GOOOAAAAAALLLLLL by speaking up for women.