Tennis icon Serena Williams has achieved more than most ever will in a given lifetime. But now, she’s focusing on other ventures and growing her family. She recently announced that she’s “evolving away” from tennis.
Gen X and Millennial women have admired Serena and her sister Venus since they emerged as breakout tennis stars in the nineties. We were in awe of their power and technical abilities, amazed at their focus and drive. We watched Serena blossom into an international star, winning 23 Grand Slam singles titles, 14 Grand Slam doubles titles, and four Olympic gold medals—not to mention being a style icon and having a baby.
She did it all while facing racism, discrimination, and sexism in her sport and from the media. As she enters her 40s, she may be shifting her focus, but that doesn’t mean she’s any less determined.
She’s Not Retiring, She’s Evolving
Sure, Williams could technically “retire” and live the rest of her days volunteering or relaxing. But she’s got too much ambition for that. Plus, she’s only forty years old.
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As she winds down her tennis career, her venture capital firm, Serena Ventures, has been investing in companies, mostly supporting underrepresented founders. Seventy-eight percent of the companies she’s invested in were started by women or people of color.
“I wrote one of the very first checks for MasterClass,” she says in her essay for Vogue. It’s one of 16 unicorns—companies valued at more than $1 billion—that Serena Ventures has funded, along with Tonal, Impossible Foods, Noom, and Esusu, to name a few.”
Williams isn’t “retiring” at all. She’s just changing careers, like so many women do as they navigate midlife.
Millions Of Women Have Dropped Out Of The Workforce To Care For Children Because Of The Pandemic
Williams also wrote in the Vogue piece about being a mother to a four-year-old, crediting her career evolution with her “hands-on” approach to raising her daughter and her desire to have another child.
Williams details the pulmonary embolism she suffered during childbirth as well as postpartum depression. “But these days, if I have to choose between building my tennis résumé and building my family, I choose the latter,” she writes.
Millions of other women feel the pressure to work as if we don’t have children and mother as if we don’t work, but that mindset isn’t sustainable. Add to all of this a worldwide pandemic, and mothers are feeling the pressure even more. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, many mothers abandoned their careers as virtual learning became the norm.
Numbers are difficult to nail down, but according to the United States Census Bureau, 10 million mothers with school-aged children were not working in January of 2021. So, presumably, the numbers are higher when you consider mothers with infants and toddlers.
Williams has been vocal, along with other women athletes, about how difficult it is to juggle being a working mother. But she also acknowledges that she has resources and support that many others do not have.
“I don’t know how moms do it,” she says in an interview with Today. “I work a lot, and I can’t imagine working a full day like most working women and then [going] back to their babies. I’m fortunate enough that I have days off, and I get to make my schedule and then can spend the rest of the day with her. And that’s still hard.”
Even Pre-Pandemic, Women In Midlife Struggled To Rejoin The Workforce After Raising Children
Working moms’ struggles aren’t new. It’s always been challenging to rejoin the workforce after children become school-aged, even pre-pandemic. Large gaps in your resume or companies prioritizing single, childless candidates have long (and unfairly) left midlife job applicants at a disadvantage. It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to get back into the same field or starting a new career—it’s always been rough.
But we can learn a lot by watching Williams: She started her own company when she saw a need. While it’s not for everyone, many mothers have found that entrepreneurial efforts fit their needs and schedules. Williams and her husband, Alexis Ohanian, have also been vocal about sharing parenting duties and advocating for paid parental leave.
The pandemic shined a light on many social and labor issues, and Williams’ response to those obstacles is an inspiring one. By using her platform to further emphasize the challenges working mothers face regularly, she’s hopefully leading us one step closer to solutions.