Eight weeks before the U.S. women’s national soccer team departed for France to compete at the World Cup, several of Hollywood’s more powerful actresses joined the throng of supporters for an April 7 friendly at the Rose Bowl.
While Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and their teammates tackled Belgium on the field, Natalie Portman, Eva Longoria, Jessica Chastain, Uzo Aduba and Jennifer Garner sported jerseys of women’s soccer stars past and present to cheer in solidarity.
On Friday, these two groups of women who perform in starkly different arenas announced they’re now on the same team, merging the equal-pay advocacy of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association, whose members in March sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination, with the entertainment industry’s Time’s Up movement, formed to tackle workplace harassment and sexual abuse and increase women’s power at all levels.
The goal of the partnership — unveiled on the eve of the squad’s Rose Bowl return, for a match against Ireland in the first stop of a five-city victory tour following its World Cup triumph — is to raise money to fund the fight for pay equity for women in all workplaces.
“It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in or what status you have: The pay gap is prevalent for all women,” said U.S. defender Becky Sauerbrunn, 34, in a telephone interview. Sauerbrunn was among 21 team members, including Crystal Dunn, Julie Ertz, Ali Krieger, Rose Lavelle, Carli Lloyd, Sam Mewis, Alyssa Naeher, Kelley O’Hara and Mallory Pugh, who took part in the initial gathering of the women, who met for a closed-door brainstorming session Thursday afternoon in West Hollywood.
Among the more than three dozen participants from Time’s Up were actresses America Ferrera, Brie Larson and Portman; and agent Maha Dakhil, who represents Portman and Reese Witherspoon.
After introducing themselves and stating their issues of chief concern, the women sorted themselves into one of three breakout sessions — on policy change, corporate change and cultural change — to learn more about how they can leverage the powerful platforms they have to advocate for more equitable public policy, coach businesses to do better on pay issues and influence public opinion on the issues.
The discussions were led by experts in the fields of civil liberties, entertainment labor law, documentary film, communications, public policy and governmental affairs.
In all areas, the goal of the alliance is not simply to improve their lot in the arenas of sports and entertainment, but to lift women in all walks of life, whether they’re agricultural workers, service-industry employees, hourly wage-earners or business executives.
“Using each other’s power to lift others up is a really inspiring concept,” said Mewis, 26, an executive committee member of the players’ union, as well as a Massachusetts native who is from what she calls “a union family.”
The women started by arming themselves with data about the pay gap and its disproportionate impact on women of color.
Working women, on average, earn 20 percent less than their white, non-Hispanic, male counterparts. African American women earn just 61 cents on the dollar; Latinas, 53 cents.
Beyond the issue of equal pay for equal work, the group plans to spotlight the related issue of “occupational segregation” — the fact that the jobs women do are often in roles that pay less, such as child care, domestic work and nursing, which over a lifetime of work compounds the inequity.
One idea that emerged from the policy session, Mewis noted, was for the athletes to learn about the policies (or lack of policies) that address pay equity in the five states that will host their victory tour stops and make that a talking point in interviews in California, Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
“That’s one way we could reach more people,” Mewis said. “It could be so powerful and something that could go a long way with our fans.”
Molly Levinson, the Washington-based adviser to the players’ association who was among the participants, called it “a momentous convening.”
“It unites two essential conversations on gender — one from the field and one from the stage,” Levinson said. “These two groups of change-makers both recognize the power of the platform they have, and it speaks volumes that they’ve chosen to use it to advocate for all the courageous women in workforces everywhere.”
Also playing a key role was Jen Klein, chief strategist and policy officer at Time’s Up, whose career has focused on gender issues globally and domestically as a lawyer, former State Department official and political consultant.
“For all of us, it has been a joy and more than inspiring to watch these players stand up for themselves and also to take this moment to stand up for women and girls around the country,” Klein said. “The boldness and vigor they play with, they’re now using to stand up for everyone and demand equal pay for everyone.”
In it, Klein sees a natural, common thread with the work of Time’s Up.
“Time’s Up was founded because we didn’t want to wait another day," she said. "These players are in the same place: They’re not willing to wait any longer. And in this incredibly important way, they’re using their moment to advocate for and with women across the country.”