What Women in Tech Can Learn from the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team

By Maya Schreiber

As a little girl, I looked up to the people I wanted to become—politicians, CEOs, inventors. That didn’t include soccer players. But it does now. While I still have little interest, and even less of the necessary talent it takes to become a professional soccer player, I want to be a woman on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT). Not because they’re athletes. Because they’re change-makers. The lessons from the U.S. women’s soccer team’s success at the 2019 Women’s World Cup extends beyond the game. It can and should be applied to women across career fields (get it?). 

It’s the same game.  

Women in sports and women in tech are very similar. Both groups work in male-dominated careers. They each require a specialized, unique skill-set that is not wide-spread. And both produce tangible, concrete results in the form of game-wins, tech innovations, and so on. We’re playing the same game and we face similar struggles. The USWNT’s fight is our fight—and it’s not just about the wage gap.     

The now widely popular Nike commercial explains what the team really wants—the appropriate level of respect for their talent. The team definitely has respect, there is no doubt. But a woman shouldn’t have to have more talent that her male counter-part to receive the same level of trust and respect. Why did it take TWO consecutive World Cup championships to generate this level of excitement? This unequal standard for respect is true for women on the sports field, as well as women behind the monitor, in the lab, or at the office. 

What women in tech can learn from women in sports.   

The U.S. women’s soccer team seems to be winning their fight at the moment, so let’s learn from them. While we don’t all have the platform these 23 women do, we can take they lessons they’ve learned and apply them to our own lives. 

1) Work towards the right results.  

The women’s team has always produced results by winning on the field. But only recently has it gained immense traction. Why? Because it’s finally produced the right kind of results—ones that undermine their opposition’s logic. Allow me to explain.  

Individuals have justified paying professional female soccer players significantly less than males because they do not generate the same level of revenue and ratings. They do not justify the pay by claiming male athletes are superior. Therefore, dominating on the field will not convince the opposition to increase women’s pay. Improving ratings and revenue will. The right results are ones that undermine your opposition’s logic—ones that force them to listen to you. 

Sunday’s World Cup final saw higher TV ratings than the most recent men’s World Cup and the team has generated more revenue than the men. While winning on the field helped generate these higher ratings and revenue, it’s the ratings and revenue themselves that have been most effective at evoking change. The USWNT’s success is because it produced not just results, but the right ones. Lesson number one: Identify the rationale of your opposition and produce results to undermine it. Because when the logic is gone, people have to start listening.  

2) Don’t settle for the platform you’re given. Expand it.  

The USWNT expanded their platform beyond the field. This very post exists because they made their mission relatable to people outside of sports, like women in tech. Instead of just speaking out about the wage gap in sports, they decided to be change-makers advocating to close the wage gaps in all careers. This opened the door for greater support from diverse audiences, gaining more traction for their cause. It also brings a greater variety of skills and perspectives, which is always beneficial. The lesson—don’t only look for allies that are just like you, look for ones that are similar enough. Not only do you get more people joining your fight, but more people on the sidelines cheering you on. As Nike puts its “This team wins. Everyone wins.” 

3) Feel the breeze? Find the open window.  

Most social movements are effective because they capitalize on what’s known as a “policy window,” which is just a fancy way of saying the convergence of the right people, place, and time necessary for achieving your goal. The USWNT is in their perfect policy window—and they’ve capitalized on it. They’ve delivered the right type of convincing results, gained enough traction with their large following, have the proper support from influential corporations, and so on. 

The lesson here is not just to use your window but to know when it’s there. To all the women in tech, IT’S HERE! By bringing this battle to the main stage, the USWNT has given us all the opportunity to make changes on our respective fields. Policy windows are rare. Know how to identify them, and jump on them when they appear. Just like momentum, you’ll lose it if you don’t use it. So, capitalize on your limited opportunities to evoke the change you seek.  

I am not an athlete. You might not be an athlete. But we share a lot in common with the U.S. Women’s National Team. Women in technology should not only learn from their recent success but use the opportunity these women have given us to score our own type of goals.  

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