The Power of Speaking Up

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

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This Article Has 11 Comments
  1. Caitlin Wahlers says:

    Ofuma, I couldn’t agree with you more! It is critical to speak up and share one’s experience when facing various forms of inequities. As we have discussed in class, brands are listening in online conversations and social media creates a unique pathway to heard. I think it is important to acknowledge Allyson Felix’s status as a professional athlete because I don’t necessarily believe that as much public attention would be given to lesser-known figures had they shared a similar story. I do, however, find it courageous and empowering to see individuals such as herself using her personal story to motivate change.

  2. Bridget Kraus says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post, and I agree with everything you said. It is definitely important to speak up when you feel passionate about something, and if you feel changes should be made. Even if people are too afraid to speak up, they never know what could happen if they do so. Also, this particular story demonstrates how valuable an act of speaking out can be in terms of it reaching so many other people going through similar situations. It is important to have each others’ backs and advocate for change when we believe in something so strongly.

  3. Josie Ruff says:

    I love this topic!. Female athletes like Allyson Felix and Alysia Montano are so inspiring for having the courage to not back down against such a powerful company as Nike. I like the connection you made between the work they are doing and the talk from Lauren Teague. My first instinct would not be to compare their work to a communication specialist, but you make a great point that they are showing conversion results with the conversations they have started. I think a lot of the time we either only look at social media from a PR or marketing perspective or even from a negative perspective because of the problems with politics or body-image that we hear about. Reminders like this of the power for change that is possible are always uplifting.

  4. Ben Cooke says:

    Great post Ofuma! I completely agree that social media has greatly empowered consumers to band together and evoke change. Sharing your opinion and speaking your mind in such a public setting with the ability to tag a particular company not only allows the specific company to see what you are saying, but also can encourage action by that company if what you are saying gains traction by the comments, thumbs-up, or media references/articles that may feature your particular comment. Protecting brand image is paramount to any brand. And anything negative that is within the company’s control, should be addressed if it is discussed on social media by a customer to prevent backlash or a decrease in brand perception. As such, social media is becoming a form of market research that is integrated into a company’s marketing plan to determine, which campaigns are working/need improvement, or perhaps what products to release/change – leaving more power to consumers to be heard.

  5. Jacob Swinn says:

    Great post! As Ben said, brands seriously care about public image, and even powerful brands like Nike notice when there are negative reactions occurring on social media. I have noticed in the last 5-10 years a large uptick in people using social media as a platform to speak out against or speak up about serious issues, and these posts reach such a wide audience that change can occur simply based on a post on IG. Many brands, such as Patagonia, use their ambassadors and athletes as spokespeople for the brand, hoping to drive change through social media posts. In the case of Alysia and Allyson, brands like Oiselle have taken up the cause and are basically the “anti-Nike” now: https://www.oiselle.com/about

  6. Kyra Lindsay says:

    Such an important topic! I also think that photo is extremely powerful of Alysia Montano running while she was 8-months pregnant. This topic is very relevant and I believe you covered it extremely well. Females are discriminated against in most workplaces and many forget that that includes brands we love and athletes we follow. Nike should be held to even higher standards as they hold themselves above other brands in the athletic field. If they are the best they should “just do it”.

  7. Emma Brennan says:

    I really enjoyed reading your blog post. I also completely agree with what you said. I think this is such an important topic and is very relevant currently. Social media has positively worked to make a difference at times. Companies and brands that have came together to stand up for what is right is a good use of their power and authority.

  8. Ben Feng says:

    Hi Ofuma, your intro and conclusion are amazing! Really giving us a lot to think about. I think one of the big issues here about the brand is how much of a market share Nike truly has. Nike losing Felix doesn’t tremendously hurt them in the grand scheme of things. Whereas Felix moving over to smaller brands like Asics and Nuun provide a much smaller impact. I wonder if the message would be more powerful if Felix teamed up with another Nike athlete in a similar position.

  9. Ben Feng says:

    Hi Ofuma, your intro and conclusion are amazing! Really giving us a lot to think about. I think one of the big issues here about the brand is how much of a market share Nike truly has. Nike losing Felix doesn’t tremendously hurt them in the grand scheme of things. Whereas Felix moving over to smaller brands like Asics and Nuun provide a much smaller impact. I wonder if the message would be more powerful if Felix teamed up with another Nike athlete in a similar position.

  10. Jaden Watkins says:

    This was an empowering blog post and you did a really great job! Great job applying this to bigger issues and real world examples and people like Kara Goucher and brands like Burton and Nike. I like that you tied speaking up to social media and the power behind both. Overall awesome blog post!

  11. Amelia Whitford says:

    Ofuma, great post! It is so important to use your voice and speak up, especially with how easy it is on social media. I completely agree with you on the fact that there is so much power when it comes to speaking up on personal experiences and issues. You did a great job with giving examples of how valuable an act of speaking out is and what it can do for not only yourself, but for other people as well. Also, with more people speaking up, it can inspire and encourage the people who are afraid to use their voice.

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