This was originally a series of Instagram posts Coach Sandi wrote (along with the help of Coach Sage and Coach Ray) about equal pay for women in MUT (mountain, ultra, trail) running. Also included are some thoughtful comments to the original posts. At the bottom you will find a template letter you can use to write letters to companies that you’d like to see commit to equality in MUT running.
While I know most of you who read this aren’t looking to be a sponsored runner, as a consumer you have the power to vote about what matters to you with the money you spend. If you care about equal opportunities for women, if you enjoy following female athletes on social media, if you care about strong female role models who seek to empower others, and if you want to be part of creating a culture where female athletes are valued just as much as men, then I encourage you to follow along.
I want to quickly mention it’s important to know the difference between Equity and Equality. For ease, I will use the word “equality” quite a bit, but equity should not be ignored. I could write a whole post on this topic, however, I think this was covered very well by Ultra168 a couple of years ago and I encourage you to read the following article before reading any of my upcoming posts: https://ultra168.com/2017/08/07/equality-vs-equity-ultrarunning/
Lastly, I’ve decided to do this because I have witnessed the power that comes when good people come together to create positive changes. For me, the best way I can say thank you to everyone who has made a difference in the past is to continue to be someone who aims to create positive changes for the benefit of others. In the past few years we’ve gotten equal team sizes and distances at world championship events, we’ve gotten (some) companies to ensure paid maternity leave, we’ve made sure (most) races have equal prize purses, more female athletes are being used in company videos and ads, races can now earn a Trail Sisters badge if they meet simple requirements, etc. Here’s to keeping the ball rolling!
To the companies who make it appear like you support female athletes- I’m not fooled by your inspirational ads using women so you can trick people into thinking your company actually cares about women enough that you pay women the same amount as men. To be fair, I do appreciate you listening to us enough over the years that you’re using more and more female athletes in your ads. That’s certainly a step in the right direction, yet I’m informed enough to know you’re using some of these ads to mask how little you pay your female athletes compared to men. You know women have a lot of buying power. Not only do women spend money on themselves, but they also do much of the buying for their families.This means that keeping your misleading marketing under wraps so people don’t turn to other companies who actually care about equal pay/support is important to you. You’re making a ridiculous amount of profits and yet don’t feel obliged to pay women more. Instead of keeping your cover, I say it’s time to just do the right thing.
As Julia German from The Athletes Coalition recently stated in a Trail Runner Magazine article, “Women in trail running are paid, if at all, a small fraction of what their male counterparts are paid. I would say this statement reflects averages, and it does, but I can’t name one company that is willing to have a third party audit their pay to male and female athletes even just to advise them whether they are approaching an equitable pay scale,” says German. “From what I’ve seen in the contracts I’ve worked on, it’s not even possible [for] women to argue for close to equal pay in almost all cases.”
“And when we say that change takes time, for example in response to getting more women in positions in these companies, that may be true. But there are things we can do immediately. For example we can hire a third-party auditor to review our company and inform us whether we’re offering equal pay for equal qualifications. And if we are not, we can change that right now. The first company I see publicly certifying that it has hired a third-party to do this and promising that it pays and will continue to pay women employees and athletes in equal step to men is a company I would go on a shopping spree to support!” -Julia German, The Athletes Coalition
While a lot of this is about money distribution, it’s also about the people in charge of managing athletes and teams. I’ve spoken to more than one team manager who clearly didn’t have a clue about women’s running. One guy literally told me how he was excitedly following along the iRunFar.com men’s coverage of a major ultra and when he found out he was talking to me he had to look back at the coverage on the women. Irunfar did a great job of covering the women’s race at the same time as the men’s! I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but this guy gets paid a lot and he clearly wasn’t doing his job. The guy is in charge of a ton of money that goes to athletes and I know very well he’s not giving half the money to the females on the team. I’m sure he appreciates the non disclosure agreements the contracts contain so a male athlete on the team can’t tell a female athlete on the team that she’s making next to nothing compared to him.
Yes, the amount of pay can vary a lot between just the men on a team and is not always by merit/performances or social media following, but rather by personality and “who knows who” or “who likes who” like many things in business. That is an individual thing regarldess of sex. What shows discrimination is still a big part of this issue is the fact that women consistently get paid less compared to men, even women who are performing on the same relative level and may bring more sales or brand awareness to a company. Individual examples aren’t always good to show this as it is not always so cut and dry, it is the larger trend at hand that makes it clear this is a problem. It also goes with not just pay or bonuses but also a lack of media coverage (in races) and a lack of promotion (to gain more social media followers). This whole cycle perpetuates itself because of that. Less pay means less travel opportunities and less chance to perform well in big races. Less race coverage means less brand awareness and a smaller social media following and a whole devaluing of women’s performances relative to men’s.
“Running is my passion. I’m not in it for the money.” I’m 100% with anyone who says that, but we’ve got to stop using that as a reason not to ask for more. I know plenty of male runners who say that, but at the same time believe they’re worth a good chunk of money/support. If you want to be a sponsored runner, realize it’s an exchange. You wearing or using a company’s products is an advertisement that brings more attention to the company. For smaller companies, yes, showcasing their products for free products can be an equal exchange, but know when it’s time to ask for more.
Last year I realized I was part of the problem as I didn’t fully understand contracts or how to negotiate. Gratefully, there’s this amazing organization started by 3 women called The Athletes Coalition that helped me learn the ropes of contract negotiation. I still have some work to do, but this was an empowering experience for me and it’s a step I know others could benefit from as well. I say all of this as a small side note. While I do believe women need to be empowered to ask for more, I also realize the truth of the situation is that most companies won’t give more and they know they don’t have to since other companies are selling women short as well. I believe we can change this, which is what the last post will be dedicated to.
“As women we have been conditioned to live our lives saying please and thank you, being grateful for what we are given and not asking for more. The result is that we often catch ourselves reacting to situations of inequality by saying exactly what you mention and also things like “oh, it’s okay, I’m fine with what I’ve got” or “I don’t need ‘special treatment'” or by justifying inequalities by saying things like “there’s probably a reason why I get what I get” or “I’m getting more than I was getting before and more than the women before me got so that’s a step in the right direction” even though deep down inside we know we are worth more and deserve more, and we know that there is absolutely no justification for why we should get less than our male counterparts, and an improvement in equality is not equality. ” -Silke Koester
I’ve never been one to just accept an issue instead of taking action, so let’s get a conversation going on the solution. Without a doubt we get things done better and faster when we put our heads together which is why I want you to share your ideas, but first I’ll share with you some of mine to get the ball rolling.
Throughout this series of posts many people stated they’d gladly choose to buy only from companies that show they are committed to equality in pay. With this in mind, I wrote a template letter you can use to let companies know that their support of their female athletes matters to you. (Thanks Gina Lucrezi for looking over the letter for me!) Included is also a statement about supporting women through maternity as that’s part of the bigger issue at hand.
Other thoughts: -Hopefully if enough people start writing to companies we can make a list of companies who we’re 100% sure give equal support for both pay/support and who don’t penalize women for becoming pregnant. -Keep talking and don’t be afraid to speak up. You’ve got me and a ton of others to stand with you. Social media can be intimidating, but it’s also shown it can help get things accomplished fast. -Keep showing how much you support female athletes. Share the template letter, videos, articles, podcasts, race results, etc. If I hear people talking about a race and I notice they’re talking about the men’s race, I’ll always try to chime in and talk about the women’s race. -Keep sharing the resources that Trail Sisters offer and asking race directors to get the official Trail Sisters Approved badge: https://calendar.trailsisters.net/trail-sisters-approved/
Thanks so much for hearing a few of my thoughts on this topic. There have been so many positive changes already because of good people coming together to create change and I’m looking forward to hearing your solutions on this topic so that the positive changes can continue.
Dear _(Company Name)_,
I’m writing to you with the intention of better supporting my fellow female athletes in a way that can benefit your company in terms of both brand loyalty and profits. Furthermore, the ideas below can successfully improve the sport of trail and ultra running as a whole.
There is a strong, growing trend of consumers who are choosing to buy only from companies who align with their values in regards to the planet, animals, and other people. In short, people want to support companies who are creating positive changes. On this note, one area that a growing number of people are asking companies to improve on, is their support of female athletes. We, the consumers, would like to support companies that we’re sure give equal pay for equal qualifications. In order to show this, we would appreciate if you would:
1) Hire a third party auditor to review and inform the company on whether you’re offering equal pay for equal qualifications. If improvements need to be made, offer your customers the steps you will take to make the necessary changes.
2) Show, in writing, that the company fully supports its female athletes and workers through pregnancy along with a proper maternity leave.
Taking these steps and publicly stating your commitment to equality and equity for females in the company would create invaluable brand loyalty and bring in new consumers. Since people share the reasons behind their brand loyalty on social media and in social settings, this essentially boosts your advertising reach in a very cost effective manner. In other words, the money spent on a third party auditor and giving greater financial support to females throughout the company would more than be paid back in the increased profits now and for years to come.
Thank you for considering taking action to create positive changes in your company as well as the athletic community.