After a yearslong campaign for gender pay equity, the U.S. women's national soccer team (USWNT) has struck a deal that will pay its players equally to the men's squad.
In May, the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) announced two new collective bargaining agreements stipulating that players from the men's and women's national teams will receive the same pay in all matches and competitions.
"This is a truly historic moment," USSF President Cindy Parlow Cone said in a statement. "These agreements have changed the game forever here in the United States and have the potential to change the game around the world."
The deals, which go into effect today and run through 2028, include a provision through which the teams will pool prize money payments the USSF receives from FIFA—world soccer's governing body—for their participation in the World Cup.
U.S. Soccer will also share a portion of its broadcast, partnership and sponsorship revenue with the players, which will be divided equally between the USWNT and the U.S. men's national soccer team (USMNT) after the USSF takes a cut.
Players from both squads will also be paid a share of the revenue from tickets sold at U.S. Soccer-controlled home matches and a bonus amount for those games that are sellouts.
"They said equal pay for men and women was not possible, but that did not stop us and we went ahead and achieved it," Walker Zimmerman, a member of the U.S. National Soccer Team Players Association leadership group, said in a statement. "We hope this will awaken others to the need for this type of change and will inspire FIFA and others around the world to move in the same direction."
How Stark Was the Pay Discrepancy?
In 1999, when the USWNT won the World Cup, the players asked for a raise after the USSF signed a $120 million deal with Nike, according to The Washington Post. Their request was rejected. However, the players ultimately received a raise of an undisclosed amount after threatening to skip the 2000 Olympics.
In 2015, the women's World Cup final was the most-watched soccer game ever on a U.S. network. Between 2016 and 2018, the women brought in $50.8 million in revenue, while the men brought in $49.9 million, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Yet the USMNT continued to earn larger World Cup bonuses, even in years when the team didn't advance out of the tournament's group stage. In 2019, the USWNT received $4 million after winning its second consecutive World Cup championship. The USMNT received nearly $5.4 million just for reaching the round of 16 in 2014.
In 2019, the USWNT filed a lawsuit against the USSF alleging wage discrimination and unequal working conditions. In February, it was awarded $24 million, contingent upon the two sides agreeing on a new collective bargaining agreement.
Equal Pay Shouldn't Require 'Incredible' Efforts
The gender pay gap has long been an issue in workplaces across America.
Since 2015, the pay gap has slowly decreased. However, this improvement stalled in 2022: Women earned 82 cents for every $1 men earned when comparing all women to all men, according to compensation data and software firm Payscale's 2022 State of the Gender Pay Gap Report.
[SHRM members-only resource hub page: Pay Equity]
Nzinga Shaw, managing director and chief inclusion and diversity officer at the talent firm ZRG Partners in Atlanta, said employers should implement best practices and tools to organically achieve pay equity and create a culture of transparency and fairness regarding pay.
"Pay is an important topic for everyone," Shaw said. "Employees need to be well-informed, and leaders need to be diligent and thoughtful about pay decisions."
Shaw, who once served as an HR executive for the NFL and a member of the league's Diversity Council, applauded the USWNT for their yearslong efforts to address the systemic barriers impeding equal pay for equal work in soccer despite encountering several failed attempts to come to an agreement with the USSF.
"The team turned a tragedy into a triumph and shined a bright light on the pay equity issues that women face in soccer, and, more broadly, throughout the workforce—irrespective of industry," she said.
Susan MacKenty Brady, co-author of Arrive and Thrive: 7 Impactful Practices for Women Navigating Leadership (McGraw Hill, 2022), said the USWNT's achievement should be celebrated but that equal pay should not require the "incredible" efforts the team needed to make it happen.
"If you are in a position of power and leadership, I implore you to take a stand to ensure equal pay is the standard in your organization and industry," Brady said. "If you are an ally for equity and inclusion and you know of visible or invisible disparities, please be courageous and stand up for what is equitable."