Fighting For Parity: Champion Boxer, MMA Fighter Offers Winning Strategies For All Women

“This is so no 12- year-old girl is sorry she’s a girl.”

Heather Hardy, the World Boxing Champion International Female Super Bantamweight with a 21-0 undefeated record, and an MMA fighter, wants you to know that the lessons she shares on pay equity, persistence, winning, passion and defeat all women can use. Whether she is in a ring, cage, office or any workplace.

“Boxing is not just a sport,” Hardy says. “It transcends sports because I feel like I can endure, I can subsist.”

World Boxing Champion International Female Super Bantamweight, @HeatherHardyBox, wants you to know that the lessons she shares on pay equity, persistence, winning, passion, and defeat are lessons women can use in any workplace

The 36-year-old mother of a 14-year-old daughter says she started training in kickboxing in 2010, and 18 months later went pro in the boxing ring. Now the head coach at Shadowbox, a New York training facility, she trains both men and women to box, some for a 45-minute workout, and some to go pro. She sees the parallel in her sport are similar to all workplaces.

“Across the board there is unequal pay in almost all industries for women,” says Hardy. “But in sports, there may be more gaps than anywhere else.”  

That is true. No women made it to the Forbes 2018 list of the 100 highest-paid athletes.

#UnequalPay in the sports industry is particularly blatant. No women made it to the Forbes 2018 list of the 100 highest-paid athletes. @HeatherHardyBox wants to change that.

Not a single female athlete earned enough in the past 12 months to break in. Not even Serena Williams made the cut,” Anna Sheffer writes in Hello Giggles.

“The world’s top-earning professional athletes show boxer Floyd Mayweather coming in first for the fourth time in seven years. Rounding out the top three were soccer players Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (who made the most in both 2016 and 2017). All in all, 11 different sports were represented on the list. Basketball was the highest-paying sport overall, with 40 NBA players cracking the top 100,” writes Sheffer.

Hardy says the most she has earned is $12,000 for an MMA fight. By comparison, for her 15th pro boxing match, she earned $7,000 for winning a 10-round fight.

“The guy getting in the ring right after me won $150,000,” Hardy says. “Women in boxing had a lack of airtime so it was hard to get promoters,” she says. “We took small paychecks for the exposure and the visibility.”

In 2016, NBC Sports aired its first women’s boxing match in 25 years, so pay is increasing, but not by much.

“You still have women accepting half of the pay. It’s that old feeling of men making us feel like we should be thankful we can do this job,” Hardy says. “I don’t have to be thankful to anymore. I have made my case, and you should be grateful for me.”

In other sports, the enormous gender pay disparity for prize money is blatant.

Recently “the event organizers of the 2018 Ballito Pro Juniors posted a photo on their Facebook page of the men’s and women’s event winners, both standing on the podium holding their respective over-sized checks. In the photo, the men’s/boy’s 18-and-under winner Rio Waida brandishes a prize check for 8,000 South African Rand (roughly $578 USD). Next to him is the winner of the women’s/girl’s division Zoe Steyn, holding a check in her name worth half of what her male counterpart was receiving,” according to Surfer magazine.

“Earlier this month, Nick Kyrgios pocketed $83,650 for winning the Brisbane International. Julia Goerges, meanwhile, earned $43,000 for winning a similar-level event in Auckland,”  David Cox writes in Al Jazeera.

“Adding endorsements, the gulf widens. World’s top-ranked female tennis player Simona Halep’s off-court earnings came in at $1.5 million last year, dwarfed by Roger Federer, currently men’s number two, who pocketed $58 million. FIFA, football’s world governing body, awarded a total prize pool of $15 million for the last Women’s World Cup. For the men’s equivalent, the pool was $576 million,” Cox writes.

Competitors, coaches and all positions in sports have enormous pay disparities, according to Emily Dane-Staples, PhD is an Associate Professor of Sport Studies in the School of Arts & Sciences at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York, who published her research in The Sport Journal.  

“In a study of coaches and athletes, the greater the percentage of female athletes under a coach’s command, the lower their salary. Wage inequity is common in many different professions, often based on what is considered trait-based men’s and women’s work, “ Dane-Staples writes.

“Jobs for which men are thought to be more capable pay about 24 percent more than jobs for which women are thought to be capable. These factors perpetuate a system that places a premium on male salaries. An initial study into coaching salary differential found that male coaches received more money for coaching female athletes than did female coaches.”

Even with the disparities, Hardy says your opportunities are what you can create.

She tells ESPN, “I wasn’t brought up in a place where my parents sent me to fancy boxing camps in the summertime. I didn’t have the best childhood. Both of my parents worked two jobs and they raised my brother and sister. I’m still doing what I’m doing because I worked really hard. There are super successful people who had s—-y lives too, but there’s two things you can do: You can either use it as an excuse or you can use it as a reason to propel you forward. And that’s what I did. I’m a fighter.”

Hardy offers these takeaways for all women leaders:

Stand up for each other. “If women don’t stand by each other. No one else will do it. If I can change how one little girl feels about herself, then I’ve done my job.”

@HeatherHardyBox says women leaders need to stand up for each other to create change. Tell us your story about sticking by a fellow #womanleader.

You do have to lose, but winning is worth it. The first time she was in an MMA fight, she won. “I was on my knees in Madison Square Garden and 30,000 people were screaming my name in the same place where Billy Joel plays piano. The second time I took an elbow to the face and broke my nose, with nine stitches in my first professional loss. It’s not about having a loss. I would have 10 losses just to have that feeling.”

You have to try. “That’s the biggest lesson to my clients. All I did was believe in myself.” Hardy also trains with three workouts a day in the 6-8 weeks leading up to a match or fight.

Money is not the most important thing. “Exposure and the possibility of bigger things happening in the future matters. I ask myself if I am going to be seen.”

Use your voice, do the work. “Closed mouths do not get fed. That’s the best advice I got. If you want things to happen, you have to make things happen. Yes, you deserve it, you can have it, but you have to go get it.”