“Girls Are Taught to Be Perfect, Boys Are Taught to Be Brave” – Why the Battle of the Sexes Rages on for Billie Jean King
As the U.S. Open gets underway in New York, the tennis legend reminds us that equality, diversity and inclusion needs to be pushed from the tennis court across all sports and in to the workplace.
45-years-ago, Billie Jean King made history when she played Bobby Riggs, a former world number one, in what became known as the ‘Battle of the Sexes’. The then 29-year-old stepped on the court in Houston wearing her trademark glasses and a pair of adidas blue suede trainers to prove that women can be equal to men.
Against all the odds she won in three spectacular sets.
Her fight for what’s right has only got stronger over the intervening years and now the 74-year-old King is fronting an adidas campaign “Here to Create Change” to help girls claim the future and encourage inclusivity and diversity across all areas of life, from sport to the workplace.
Billie Jean, is there a difference between fighting for what's right on the tennis court and in the workplace?
To me, they’re the same because sports are a microcosm of society and it reflects exactly what’s going on. Since I was 12 I’ve believed strongly in equality; everyone having access, everyone having an opportunity in life, and having the same respect and privileges.
At adidas we encourage people to create a change. Do you see a change happening?
I think the millennials and the Gen Z’s are the greatest generations ever in the history of our world to fight for inclusion. They just think it’s normal. The young people I meet, I just love it. I wish I were young again sometimes, because they’re exactly where I wanted people to be when I was 12, 13-years-old. They’re catching up. Every generation has to continue the fight.
Also, we want to hear each other’s voices and ideas and opinions because of the creativity that each person has to offer – we get better ideas. We know that companies do better, that people are happier when this happens. We really need to be alert. I think whatever you give attention to grows, so just decide what’s right for you as a human being.
We know that sport gives girls much needed confidence, but teen dropout rates are huge. What’s causing this?
When girls become teenagers, they tend to drop out because of the socialization that goes on that basically tells us to drop out, and start worrying about boys, and start worrying about other things.
And no one’s perfect, but that belief hurts girls’ self-confidence because we think we’re never good enough. You’ll see it in daily life. “I have to be perfect with my body image, with everything I do,” – it’s very important to let go of that. Just be yourself. I think we all have to think about it. It’s not something that happens quickly, it’s slow. Every generation has to keep fighting for it.
What's your one piece of advice for future game changers and leaders?
We have to keep stepping up. You have to step up when things aren’t right.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF WE CAME TOGETHER TO CREATE CHANGE?
Show us. Tell us. Use #CreatorsUnite to join the movement.Join the movement
Learning about what Billie Jean King did decades ago is a wake up call that we should be even more pushy to create change. Playing football in a boys team my whole youth, I know that it can be pretty tough and very uncomfortable to smash prejudices. But sometimes the real power unleashes if you experience unfair treatment on the pitch. Then it's on you to teach your opponents, the coaches at the sideline and the fans how a girl can perform - especially when playing against boys ;)
Thanks for sharing this inspiring interview with us all, Nevena.
I grew up the only girl in a house with 6 brothers and started my career out as the only girl on the pitch at age 4, and fought my good fight on many pitches and courts.
Early in my career at adidas I unleashed that power you speak of above too. On the pitch at the adidas HQ. I still think it's a fun story, but it shouldn't be a story at all. I took out, our then CEO Herbert Hainer, in a slide tackle when I was an intern in a company football tournament. It wasn't because I was a girl, or that I wanted to prove myself to anyone, definitely not because he was bad and I was better. It was because I had the opportunity to get the ball, and I took it. No brainer.
Now looking back, I can connect the dots and give some credit to my upbringing and a lot of credit to my very first internship, that helped bring out the challenger and change maker in me.
I was an intern for Billy Jean King's startup during the dot com boom.
Boy is she is a woman of her word, and then some. I realize now, just how much of my fight for equality in the workplace was instilled in me, because of what I learned working in her company. She didn't talk the talk, she walked it, and ensured we all did too. We all had a voice, and we were expected to use it.
I learned how to speak up and fight, from my brothers.
I learned how I should never quit, from my parents.
And I learned how to step up and stand up for what is right in the workplace, from Billie!
I seemed to have forgotten that, until I read this piece.
I'm forever grateful to her.
Great piece, and even greater initiative. I hope people read her words and find their inner creator to make real change happen, I know I'm going to!
thanks so much for sharing your story. I had goosebumps when reading it. Keep up your fire and never forget that everyone can be an inspiration for someone else. :)
Maybe we see each other on the football pitch at adidas some day.
All the best,