Even though many aspects of daily life are on hold right now, enacting large-scale change doesn’t take a break. That’s why Senator Kamala Harris invited six-time Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix to join her on ‘A Conversation with Kamala,’ live on Instagram Wednesday.
In just 30 short minutes, the two caught up on the Olympics, the Black maternal health crisis, and the pay inequities in sport and beyond.
Staying Positive During COVID-19
Like the rest of the world, Senator Harris and Felix’s lives look a little (or a lot) different during the coronavirus pandemic. While Felix is training on the streets in front of her house and in her home gym, the Senator is self-consciously figuring out how to use her stationary bike, with water bottles for handheld weights. (“You’re probably doing better than you think,” Felix tells Harris, an important reminder for Harris as much as anyone else listening.)
Overall, the 11-time world champion is resolved to stay positive in the face of this current adversity, especially with what it means for the Tokyo Olympics, which are now postponed until 2021. Felix had been training to make her fifth Olympic team.
“As of right now we’re looking like it’s going to happen next year and that’s what I’m going with,” Felix told Harris. “I’m really just making the decision to be positive. I could focus on everything that this means that is negative. But I really just want to focus on that I have time to get stronger. I have more time to prepare. I have time to spend at home with my family. You know, all this time that I wouldn’t have had before.”
And whenever they happen, Felix is looking forward to the joy they will bring. “I think the Olympics is going to mean even more now because it’s going to be a sign of healing and coming together,” she says.
Black Maternal Health Week
Senator Harris and Representative Alma Adams introduced Black Maternal Health Week (April 11 to 17) to raise national awareness—especially within the medical community—of the health crisis that Black women face.
Black women are three to four times more likely to die in connection to child birth, Senator Harris shared. She hopes that sharing stories like Felix’s can help create awareness of implicit bias that is severely impacting Black maternal health.
“It’s their responsibility, because they are medical professionals, to know that black women are 61 percent more likely to have pre-eclampsia,” said Harris.
It was severe pre-eclampsia that put Felix and her daughter in a position where they were fighting for their lives in the hospital for a full month after an emergency c-section. With her healthy pregnancy and athletic lifestyle she didn’t believe it was something that could happen to her.
“I had heard the statistics, but I think because I was a professional athlete with great medical care, I just didn’t see myself in this situation,” said Felix. “It was just a really heavy time because not only was [my daughter] fighting for her life, but I was still in the hospital and trying to deal with my own health. I just look back at the situation and I wish I had been educated.”
The Impacts of Pay Inequities
Before Felix had her daughter, she never imagined she’d be the advocate that she’s become. She didn’t see herself as the type to rock the boat. But things changed. “I want this world to be better for her,” she said.
Since then, Felix has been very vocal about fighting for more inclusive maternal rights in athlete’s contracts. Pay protection during pregnancy is one step towards leveling pay inequities—since men, after all, do not experience any sort contractual differences in their involvement in having children.
As far as salary differences are concerned, “we don’t know what the disparity is,” Felix said.
And that’s where Senator Harris sees the problem, as well as the opportunity. The statistics are out there: Overall, women make an average of $0.82 to every $1 a man makes; Black women make $0.62; Native American women make $0.57; and Latina women make $0.54. But beyond the general stats, there really is no concrete way for a woman to know if her male co-worker is making more than her doing the same job. During her bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, the Senator laid out her plan to require employers to release pay data for men and women in equal positions to demonstrate that they’ve closed the gender pay gap. In her plan, companies still showing a disparity would be fined.
The two women note how pay inequalities are especially toxic during a crisis like COVID-19, where a woman might be forced to make do with less money than her equal, while paying the same amount in rent, groceries, and other necessities.
In a time of crisis where we all must lean in and help each other out, this was an especially refreshing conversation of women uplifting women and speaking out. But as Senator Harris parted she reminded us all, “We have a lot of work to do.”