Venus Williams Talks Tech, Entrepreneurship, & the Gender Gap
On June 20, Venus Williams, the tennis champion, entrepreneur, and gender-equality advocate, stopped by New Lab to shoot an advertising campaign for her activewear line, EleVen. The fashion-forward line — modern, authentic, edgy, technically advanced — was a natural fit for the space, where shipbuilding has made way for companies on the bleeding edge of technology.
A star on the tennis courts for nearly twenty years, Williams has been making a new reputation as a fashion powerhouse, both with her clothing line and her interior design firm, V Starr. Across all her disciplines, Williams has worked steadily for gender equality; in 2007, she successfully advocated for purse equity at the Wimbledon tournament (fittingly, she also won the championship there that year, earning the same prize money as her male counterpart, Roger Federer). More recently, she’s joined forces with Ellevest, the female-focused digital investment platform founded by Sallie Krawcheck. In addition to providing savings tools and financial management, the platform makes a social impact by investing in companies with female leadership and sustainable practices and providing loans to support businesses owned by women or providing community services.
New Lab asked Williams a few questions about life as an entrepreneur, the technology that makes her high-powered life work, and the fight to close the gender gap.
1. As an entrepreneur yourself, what advice would you give to other women who are starting their own business? Do what you love, because being an entrepreneur is an amazing experience, but probably the most work you’ll do in your life. Because you are going to wear nine hats. Then all those hats, you can make them what you want. You can run your business how you want, you can create a culture that you want, so it’s wonderful to be in control, but start with a passion.
2. What technology do you see as most useful for you and other athletes playing professional sports today? Is there any technology that helps you? My phone. It’s pretty simple, but definitely having a phone. Being connected to the world — I’m traveling all around the world, and being able to be connected to my team, and review design styles, whatever it is that I need to do, I couldn’t live without the phone.
3. You’ve faced down unequal pay and unequal playing fields in sport. Have you faced any similar inequalities or special challenges as a female entrepreneur? Not yet. I think I’ve had different challenges as a female entrepreneur, or as an entrepreneur not necessarily because I was female but because I was an athlete. A lot of times people will pigeonhole you. “Oh, you’re a tennis player, so you should do tennis clothes,” or, “You’re a tennis player, why would you ever want to do interior design?” “You’re not a fashion designer” — all these different things. I’ve definitely faced different challenges. I’ve had the opportunity to have more doors open because people knew me, but it didn’t mean that I was always going to get the deal. So you have to continue to improve yourself no matter what situation you’re in.
4. Ellevest’s mission is to close the gender investing gap. Why do you feel this is important and what compelled you to invest in them? It was super important — I was of course friends with Sallie and wanted to be a part of whatever she was a part of, so that was the first thing. And then the gender gap is not only in the United States, it’s even bigger in other countries. You might hear someone talk about the gender gap in Estonia and how much work there is to do for women there, both in work and out of the workplace. So we realized there was still a lot of work to do. And I wanted to be a part of something that was at the forefront and that could make a difference not only in the United States but around the world.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and space.