Venus Williams on Equal Rights for Women: ‘We Have to Work Harder to Earn More Respect’

By Carson Burton

Venus Williams, one of the all-time tennis greats, gave a powerful speech about celebrating individuality at Variety‘s Power of Women Event in New York.

“My mom is the strongest person I know,” said Williams, whose remarks were pre-taped, in her speech on Thursday. “And alongside my father, she encouraged us to celebrate our individuality and gave us our beliefs and values. She never let us succumb to someone else’s opinion to keep us from what we believe what’s doing right. Having the confidence to do the right thing, even when it’s not the most popular, is a quality that I learned from a young age from being around such strong female presences.”

Williams was named an honoree alongside Kim Cattrall, Drew Barrymore, Queen Latifah, Camila Cabello and Amanda Seyfried. The event aims to celebrate the accomplishments of women across the entertainment industry. Saniyya Sidney, who played a young Venus in “King Richard,” introduced Williams at the event, calling her “my hero.”

“She is the one who created her own door and then opened it wide allowing little girls like me to know we could go out there and conquer the world,” she said.

Williams is a powerhouse on and off the court. On top of winning seven Grand Slam singles titles and four Olympic gold medals, Williams has advocated for pay equity for women in sports for many years.

“Getting [to Wimbledon] and realizing, ‘Wow, I’m not being paid equally,’ was just definitely a slap in the face to a 16-year-old,” Williams told Variety in the Power of Women issue. “It hit me hard.”

Williams built upon this idea during her speech at Thursday’s event, saying, “The cards are often stacked against us. We are paid less than men, we have to work harder to earn more respect and we are plagued by antiquated stereotypes about what it means to be a woman. And regardless of age, race, income, religion, all women have had moments in their life where they had to work harder to earn the same recognition or respect that men do. And it’s because of these shared experiences of inequity that it is more important than ever to uplift and celebrate each other.”

Recently, Venus and her sister Serena were showcased in “King Richard,” starring Sidney, Demi Singleton as Serena, and Will Smith as their father Richard. The Williams sisters were “extremely involved” as executive producers on the film in order to give the characters a real sense of life. Venus couldn’t attend the event, so her sister, Isha Williams, accepted the award on the tennis star’s behalf. 

The Williams sisters, who grew up in Compton, Calif., founded the Yetunde Price Resource Center, a charity that provides wellness and healing services to the Compton community. The organization was founded in honor of her oldest sister, Yetunde Price, who was murdered in Compton at age 31.

“One woman’s success is every woman’s success,” Williams said. “And though Yetunde isn’t with us right now today, her spirit really lives on in each individual that YPRC has helped and who will help. And this award tonight is for her.”