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Volume 23 No. 18
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Wambach uses experience to help women ‘speak up for more’

Abby Wambach presented Megan Rapinoe with her Visa Player of Match award after the team’s win over Spain on June 24 in Reims, France.
Photo: getty images
Abby Wambach presented Megan Rapinoe with her Visa Player of Match award after the team’s win over Spain on June 24 in Reims, France.
Photo: getty images
Abby Wambach presented Megan Rapinoe with her Visa Player of Match award after the team’s win over Spain on June 24 in Reims, France.
Photo: getty images

The last time the U.S. women’s national soccer team was competing in the World Cup, Abby Wambach was helping lead them to their third championship. Four years later, the former star forward is retired, but she went to France to watch her friends successfully defend their title. While there she took some time to answer a few questions about her experience stepping away from the sport in 2015 and her efforts to empower women by using an athlete’s point of view to help develop their leadership skills.

 

How have you handled the transition away from the game?

The transition from playing soccer has not been that difficult, since I was ready to leave the game. That said, watching and pulling for the team during this World Cup has been so difficult since I am powerless to do anything to help them win. I am so proud of the legacy we left behind and the fact that the future of the team and program are in such good hands.

 

In your book, “Wolfpack,” you describe being on stage at the ESPYs in 2016 with Peyton Manning and Kobe Bryant, where you each were given the Icon Award, and how their futures as retired athletes looked vastly different from yours. Do you think that’s an issue women across all sectors face? How can that be changed?

Women need to be willing and excited to speak up for more — they cannot settle for just being grateful. I was stuck in a place where I was simply grateful for what we had instead of doing everything in my power to push for more. This current U.S. national team is a perfect example of how a group of women are willing to address inequities while playing in the most important event of their careers.

 

You’ve written a book about leadership and founded a leadership company, Wolfpack Endeavor. How would you rate leadership in sports business on diversity and inclusion?

Leadership roles for women in sports business are scarce, but I feel like things are moving in a better direction. Interestingly enough, women who played sports through high school and/or college have a disproportionate number of leadership roles throughout other industries. The sports business, of all places, should be leading the way.

 

Following her retirement, Wambach joined Peyton Manning and Kobe Bryant on stage at the 2016 ESPYs to receive an Icon Award.
Photo: getty images
Following her retirement, Wambach joined Peyton Manning and Kobe Bryant on stage at the 2016 ESPYs to receive an Icon Award.
Photo: getty images
Following her retirement, Wambach joined Peyton Manning and Kobe Bryant on stage at the 2016 ESPYs to receive an Icon Award.
Photo: getty images

What would inclusive leadership in sports look like? What kinds of hiring practices can leagues, teams or other sport entities put in place to increase diversity? 

Leadership in sports should ideally reflect diversity of the organization or company’s employees, team and their consumers. Women and other underrepresented segments of our society provide important perspectives and creativity that will only help sports organizations grow and evolve, leading to more success. 

 

Do you think the gender pay gap is any smaller now than five, 10 or 20 years ago? How has it changed? 

The pay gap is narrowing a bit and the awareness of the issues is growing, but we are nowhere near where we need to be as a society. Secret’s powerful “I’d Rather Get Paid” campaign and other brands’ support of the women’s national soccer team during the World Cup is a high-profile example of how companies can set a great example of investing in women’s sports and events. The pay gap is an important issue, but do not forget about overall investment in women as well.

 

Are you going to continue to fight for equality and inclusion and if so, how? What are your goals?

My focus is to help train women to be better leaders by embracing an athletic mindset. Working on their personal growth as well as developing techniques to be better teammates will lead to stronger leadership skills and will provide more value for their companies.