Women in Leadership: 4 Takeaways for Women Leaders after the Women’s US Open Finals
“I know that everyone was cheering for her and I’m sorry it had to end like this.” As soon as these words left Naomi Osaka’s lips, anyone tuned in to the US Open Finals with a soul felt a tug.
No one was sure how to react. Boos began to mix with cheers, a phenomenon we’re all familiar with, that ultimately sounds like an angry roar, not the cacophonous cheering typically associated with the end of the Women’s US Open Finals.
Clear to everyone watching was that Chair Umpire, Carlos Ramos, had impacted the outcome of the match by penalizing Serena Williams an entire game for actions and behaviors that, by comparison to some of her male counterparts, were negligible.
From banning specific outfits of Serena’s to the initial “coaching” penalty leveled by Ramos, the US Open put a spotlight on the double standard that exists within its own organizational rules.
Does this feel familiar to you? Women experience this dynamic throughout their professional development and careers. The deep unfairness of rules, created without our input, used against us in a way not imposed upon our male counterparts.
When working to disrupt these structural inequalities, it can be easy to defer to an “It’s me versus the world” mentality. However, we know as leaders that our actions don’t exist in a vacuum. If you’re experiencing structural inequities, it’s likely that all of the women in your organization are experiencing them, too.
Amidst the booing after battling towards a 24th Grand Slam title, Serena Williams provided a master class in how women should be empowering other women through the noise.
1. Stand up for yourself. Serena very astutely and directly addressed the chair umpire who penalized her. In her own, now immortal words: “I don’t cheat. I’d rather lose.” Serena made it clear that she’s not about cheap wins. In doing this, she set an example for the millions of women, young and old, watching. Serena sets clear guidelines for how she expects to be treated, and what her boundaries are.
2. Ignore distractions. After the match ended, Serena gracefully refrained from commenting more about the penalty, the rules, and her opinions on either of those things. Why? Because that’s not the point. In doing this, she was able to remove the focus from the controversy and back to where it belonged – back to tennis and Naomi Osaka and her outstanding match-up against her idol.
3. Be kind. Fighting against an angry audience, and her own loss, Serena lifted Naomi Osaka up with kindness. She refocused the media on the achievements of the young star and had nothing but good things to say about the umpire who penalized her. It’s notable for leaders to focus on kindness in their actions. People will want to follow leaders like that.
Note that just because she was angry, she was still capable of being kind. We need to understand that it is OK for women to express all of their feelings – not just the ones that society tells us are acceptable to have on display.
4. Remember that equality isn’t just about how many women you employ, the pay gap, or the mommy tax. It’s about dismantling a structure that applauds John McEnroe for his sailor’s mouth and costs Serena Williams a Grand Slam title for much lesser infractions.
This kind of restructuring takes work – and not the kind of work you do sitting on a computer. It takes emotional and mental labor for a company to hold a mirror to their culture and identify where double standards exist, and how they can be understood and removed so that employees, regardless of their gender, have the same experiences and opportunities for success.
Serena is going to be okay. Naomi Osaka will likely get the opportunity to best Serena fair and square. However, the heat is on for the US Open and all organizations where double standards on women’s behavior exist. It’s time to take a closer look at our companies’ different treatment of women and men and identify a solution.
For more information on how to identify these areas in your organization, check out our eBook “Change the Face of Leadership.”