It’s no question that Serena Williams is a powerhouse on the court. But the tennis star and mom also uses her power off the court. She has long fought for women’s rights and equality, not shying away from calling out discrimination in her sport. She has stood up for herself time and time again, speaking out against double standards in sports, the gender pay gap and sexist remarks.
That’s why it’s no surprise to learn that in her latest role, brand ambassador for Secret deodorant, Williams will continue to fight for gender equality. To start off the new partnership, announced this week at MAKERS Conference in Los Angeles, Williams will collaborate on a study exploring gender bias from high school athletics to professional sports.
On the heels of the news, Williams spoke with HuffPost about her new role, gender discrimination, motherhood and what’s next.
What in particular do you think you can do with this partnership to help achieve more equality and support women?
This one is really special to me because, first of all, Secret has a very long history of supporting women’s issues and I know, and think, the brand has become a really, really big leader in the fight for women’s equality. So that really spoke to me. I felt together we could really create and just sit down and just pick each other’s brains on how we can do more to fight for women’s equality when it comes to sport, and to use our voice together and to be loud and to just create noise.
Do you think we’re making strides when it comes to achieving gender equality? Or do you think we have a long way to go?
I think we’ve made really big steps, but I also think we’ve a really long way to go. Just across the board, women’s sports ― whether you’re thinking of tennis or soccer or basketball ― there’s so much space to improve on them. And it’s important to realize that, yeah, we’ve come a long way but we’re not done, and we have a really big way to go.
As a working new mom, how do you get through minor obstacles and focus on what really matters to you?
Well, it’s hard. You just really have to … it sounds crazy and it sounds selfish, but you kind of have to be selfish and just focus on you, and then you take opportunities like this. And you champion for other things like women’s equality. But when you’re on your own with your kids as a mom, it’s not easy. You have to really sometimes just take time and do what you need to do, what’s best for your family.
In terms of the sport, can you talk about a time where you were discriminated against for your gender? And what did you do to overcome it?
Well, that happens a lot to me in particular. I think, maybe, as one of the leaders in women’s sports, it just happens a lot. I mean every day. But sometimes in tournaments, I have to fight for other players to make sure that they’re seen on the big court ― because they’ll just put all the men on the big courts and it’s like this is a men’s and women’s tournament. They need to have big courts. I think my sport has come a really, really long way, but women aren’t allowed to argue with umpires or they’ll get games taken away, and men tend to spit on them and nothing happens.
It’s so important to champion other women. Who are the women inspiring you now?
Wow. I’m inspired every day by my sister [Venus Williams]. I just think she is someone that has gone through so much in our life and continues and never gives up and believes and fights and is amazing. And so, that’s incredible.
I’m inspired by my mom. Every day I learned something from her and now that I’m a mom, I really rely on her a lot more. And I’m kind of afraid because I’m like, “Oh my God, I think I rely on her more than I ever have,” and it’s almost too much. And I’m like, “Mom, can you do this or do that, the baby’s here, you go there.” I think she likes it. Oh, she likes it. And it’s inspiring though because I look back and the thought of her having five kids and she was a champion from the beginning.
So it is really about drawing inspiration from, I like to say, the woman next door. They don’t have to have $20 million, they can just be great, and they could just literally live next door to you. And I think that is really some people that are overlooked.
With everything going on, how do you stay motivated and what inspires you to keep going?
I have goals that I want to do and I have things that I want to do and it inspires me. I want to be better. I don’t want to just sit there and just be the same person. I feel like I can always be better in so many different things, and I have different dreams and goals and I have different work ethics. And then it just inspires me to keep doing well and to keep doing the best that I can do. And that’s what keeps me inspired.
Speaking of goals, can you imagine where you’ll be, say, five, 10 years from now?
No. No, because five years ago I would’ve told you there’s no way in the world I’ll be playing tennis, not on this planet. And I still am, so I try to stay away from that question. I have no idea. I literally have no idea. It could be anything.
As a mom, what do you hope to instill in your daughter? What do you hope for her future?
That’s one thing I’m really proud to partner with Secret for because I want to continue this work together and we’re going to commission a study to understand gender equality in the sport. It will inform us about future actions that we can take and we’re actually going to commit to a million dollars to combat inequality. Equality is going to help this generation, which is going to help other people and people use their voice and other companies use their voice and images, all for the right reasons.
What are the things that you hope your daughter doesn’t have to go through that our generation had to, whether it’s in sport or something else?
I’m thinking inequality, gender. Because she is going to be a Black woman, even though she is of mixed race, it’s going to be harder for her. But those are things that I hope won’t be as hard. I mean, it wasn’t as hard for me as it was for my mom, and hopefully then maybe for my daughter, it will be a little less or a lot less. There’ll be some challenges, but I just want to prepare her for that, and not necessarily not want her to go through it, but I want her to go through it in the right way. Because sometimes you go through things and it makes you a better person, it makes you a smarter individual, and you kind of need it. And even though it sucks, you just got to do it. So hopefully, it won’t be too much, but it’s all a learning experience to create the person that you are.
Finally, what kind of role model do you hope to be for women, for Black women in sports?
Well, I just want my whole impact to be to cheer each other on, and the success of one woman should be the inspiration to the next. And I think it should be, instead of anything else, we should just inspire each other. And that’s literally … that’s it, you know?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Serena Williams is a global adviser to Verizon Media, which is the parent company for both HuffPost and MAKERS.