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Williams Says Women Need to Push Against Boundaries Till They Budge


Looking out at a crowd of more than 12,000 women who attended the Pennsylvania Conference for Women last week, Serena Williams said, “I’ve traveled the world, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

In a conversation with Ellen McGirt, senior editor of FortuneWilliams spoke about women supporting women, pushing boundaries, sexual harassment, and more. Widely recognized as the best tennis player in history, Williams is an increasingly outspoken advocate on women’s issues.

Here are some highlights:

Women supporting women

  • “We have to support each other and raise each other up and let each other know we can get through this.”
  • “We are here at this conference for a reason. There are so many great women here together. [And] this is pushing an incredible boundary…”
  • I love that it goes beyond color barriers. We are all women. There are a lot of issues we have to attack together as female.”

Pushing boundaries

  • “You gotta push boundaries that are difficult to push. If you think of it as a brick wall, it’s gonna be hard to push. But you gotta keep pushing. One day, it’s gonna budge; and when you get that first budge, it’s really exciting because you know that it is meant to be pushed.”
  • “Me being a black tennis player in a sport black people typically didn’t play: There was no manual for that.”

Sexual harassment

  • “We have to talk about things that are uncomfortable to talk about.”
  • “When I heard about [allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination against women at Nike,] I got on the phone [with CEO Mark Parker] and said: ‘What are you guys going to do as a company because you represent me but I represent women, and I do not like what’s going on. So how can I be part of the change?”
  • “It takes people like me who are prominent athletes… to stand up and be a voice and be a part of something. I can tell you since that happened, they [Nike] have started a new diversity and inclusion program, which is really changing a lot internally.”
  • “There’s a very big group of us who meet together a couple of times a year to try to figure out how we can have a bigger change and have our platforms serve and our voice be heard a lot more.”

Motherhood and maternal healthcare

  • “I did some research and was alarmed that our black mothers are not being taken care of, and it’s in a country that is supposed to be technologically advanced.”
  • “I was really fortunate because I had an opportunity for my voice to be heard. I had a wonderful female doctor who listened to me. … I didn’t realize there were so many women were losing their lives and not being listened to… It’s really unacceptable.”

On success

  • “There are moments when I can be on the tennis court or doing some design and I think, “This is never going work.” That’s not the right attitude. You have to say, ‘You can do this.’ Be your best self. Be your best cheerleader. You won’t feel that every day; it important to realize that’s normal. Always keep a positive attitude and… believe in yourself
  • “There is no way around hard work. If you have a goal you want to reach, you have to write it down and really, really work toward it every day. They say you have to eat, sleep, dream it and become it.”
  • “I’ve always been really authentic and myself because the most important thing we can do is be ourselves and be honest to ourselves.”

On being heard, and staying positive

  • “Women need to be seen and be heard more often.”
  • “There are so many different ways to impact people. If you just stay positive, make positive, you can change the course of lives. Why not change for the better rather than the worse?”
  • “My main thing is I just want to leave an imprint in a positive way. We all can use our voice in a positive way, and it really does matter.”

Her daughter’s future

  • “Women supporting each other is something I want her to see when she grows up, and I want her to be the biggest supporter of women.”
  • “And kindness is important: I would like to see her and the world continue that. And most of all, being humble no matter what you do and what accomplishments you have. … I believe humility makes you great.”