By: Ofuma Eze-Echesi
If something is making you unhappy, hampering your progress, or negatively affecting your quality of life, speak up! Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter have provided opportunities for people to speak up and be heard. Chances are you will get a community of supporters or you may lose something big, but what you stand to gain is much bigger and well worth it.
A popular and recent trend that sheds light on this topic is women in sports speaking up about maternity rights and how it creates difficulties for women to stay emotionally, physically and financially healthy. A great example is Allyson Felix. As of 2019, Allyson Felix is the most decorated female athlete in the history of track and field, with 9 Olympic medals and 18 world championship medals. The long time Nike sponsored athlete spoke up about her struggles with Nike’s Maternity leave pay policy that financially punishes female athletes during pregnancy and post-partum by significantly reducing their pay. During her negotiation with Nike, as the most marketed track and field athlete for the brand, she asked that her pay shouldn’t be adversely impacted if she did not perform at her best postpartum but Nike declined. Nike wanted to pay her 70 percent less than her usual pay post-partum, but she refused to accept that and shortly after, she was dropped by the brand.
After the news circulated the internet and several social media platforms, she gained groups of supporters; female athletes with the same experiences, mothers, black women and more. The news reached and inspired organizations like Burton, Altra, Nuun, and Athleta, to revise their maternity leave policies to better serve female athletes. Eventually, Athleta, a sports apparel company, jumped on the bandwagon, picked up where Nike left off and signed Allyson Felix. She is now an athlete and spokesperson for the brand, using her voice and experiences to inspire the next generation of female athletes. Additionally, after the fall out with Allyson Felix, there was negative attention drawn to Nike, which led the brands to revise its maternity pay policy to increase protection for pregnant female athletes by including an 18-month period beginning one month into pregnancy, where the athlete will be immune to pay reductions. Additionally, she serves as an example and inspiration for other athletes and the general public to speak up when similar issues are presented. The Instagram post shown above received over 100,000 likes and almost 3,000 positive comments, some of which were about similar experiences in the workplace or as a mother. Her action facilitated engagement and encouraged others to speak up and share their own stories. This is the power of speaking up on social media.
Some other female athletes like Kara Goucher and Alysia Montano also used their social media platform to speak up and have benefited from it. The picture below shows Alysia Montano in 2014, running while 8 months pregnant to stay avoid being financially affected by Nike’s policies. The athlete-brand relationship still failed as she went on to be sponsored by brands like Asics and Nuun and continues to speak out and inspire others.
On Monday, our speaker, Lauren Teague, discussed a key goal of creating valuable content, which is to inform, engage and convert processes. From the example above about Nike, we can agree that speaking up created awareness about maternity rights in sports, encouraged engagement from other athletes and fans, and converted processes regarding brands revising their policies. Again, this is the power of speaking up and social media.
Speaking up applies to other pressing issues in our society like bullying, sexual harassment, body shaming, racism, injustice, etc. and social media has been a key instrument in bringing them to light, addressing them and ensuring that policies are put in place to minimize their effects. By speaking up, we create connections with millions of people going through similar problems, which has the power to change things and save lives.
“Speak your mind even if your voice shakes” – Maggie Kuhn