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Changing the Work Environment for Women in Professional Sports

Changing the Work Environment for Women in Professional Sports

Changing the Work Environment in Womens Professional Sports

Katie Carter is a professional volleyball player for Athletes Unlimited.

The last year has seen a lot of attention paid to workplace reforms. I expect this trend will continue beyond 2022. These changes are great, but it is often surprising to me that professional sporting teams are not included in the conversation. The court, field, and rink are the athletes’ workplaces. Let’s just say that I have seen some eyebrow-raising behavior while on the job.

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Let’s look at the very common event of becoming a parent. I was pretty sure that my career was over when I became mom.

I was ready to make a change after a long and exhausting career playing professional volleyball for France. Over the years I had experienced a lot in my workplaces: inappropriate conduct by coaches, poor treatment of injuries, and teams owing players money. Perhaps it was time to give up my career and have children, I thought. So, my husband and me started trying to have a baby.

We experienced the rollercoaster ride of fertility struggles like many couples. We had some difficulties getting pregnant. With a new volleyball season looming, I knew I would have to choose between work or continuing my efforts to have a baby. We all knew it couldn’t be both. I chose work. My agent negotiated a huge contract for me to travel to China. I began training. I switched my focus to competitive sports. I packed my bags.

Just before signing my contract (did you mention it was a great deal? I had to take one more pregnancy test. It was positive.

Then, the shocking reality hit. I wasn’t just packing my bag for a cancelled trip. I was unpacking my bag to end my career. I was excited to become mom. However, the abrupt shift in my career and the enormity it brought about brought me to tears. My job was not secure post-partum. It also put my entire career in jeopardy.

Many new mothers worry and think about these things as they embark on the unknown that is parenthood. Motherhood can be difficult because of the many responsibilities involved in juggling priorities, fighting misrepresentation and climbing up the corporate ladder. But, I’m a professional athlete. My work is closely tied to my body. Until recently, many sports decision-makers considered women damaged goods because they were becoming mothers. Although it was not something that teams explicitly stated, they implied it through their inability to support working parents as well as their reluctance of creating policies to protect moms at work. Motherhood was like a career-killer. Was.

Because so much has changed over the past three years, it’s passé tense now. Social justice issues, mental health awareness, women empowerment and workplace protections all form part of a wave that I have witnessed in real-time.

My first pregnancy ended with a miscarriage. It was devastating emotionally. I took some time off from volleyball to heal my body, and I became pregnant again. I was looking for a new career after giving birth to my beautiful daughter. I was a volleyball player all my life, but I didn’t believe there was a place in volleyball for moms.

Then Athletes Unlimited launched. Finally, there was an organization that truly values moms and wanted me to play. AU created an innovative model that allows athletes to be the decision makers in virtually every aspect of the league’s governance, governance, and civic leadership. Practically, this meant that AU provided me with full-time childcare as well as support to allow me to bring my daughter into the competition bubble created by COVID-19.

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Athletes Unlimited also looked at things that we had taken for granted in the sport world. Athletes Unlimited does not have general managers or team ownership. They preferred shorter seasons and one location, which meant they could not travel overseas while trying raise a family. Their new scoring system was a refreshing reward for team play.

Athletes Unified’s inaugural volleyball season was my first. It was a great accomplishment. After years of trying to balance being a mother and my volleyball career, I finally realized that I could have it all. I can choose what my life looks and feels like.

Professional athletes have specialized workplace skills that they have spent their lives learning. We deserve the same protections offered by other workplaces to parents who work across the country. But creating a family-first environment is not just for parents. Allowing moms to continue their athletic careers in the workplace increases diversity and helps organizations retain great talent, if I may say so.

We must adapt to change as the world and our workplace changes. Athletes Unified will continue to listen and learn from staff and athletes in order to find new innovations and best practice for every aspect of its operation. It’s good for business and good for people. The only question is: Will the rest of the sporting community follow their lead?

Carter, an All-American at UCLA has played professionally in over 10 countries and is the co-owner of HG Beach Volleyball.

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