27 September 2023

Kicking goals: How a US soccer star is empowering women leaders

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Maya Salam* says a retired US soccer superstar is applying lessons of failure and triumph learned on the field to empower women.

Abby Wambach (pictured) has made a career out of pursuing goals.

She’s scored 184 of them after all, the most by any soccer player, male or female, in international soccer history.

But now, a few years into her retirement, Wambach, who led the US women’s soccer team to a World Cup championship in 2015, is focused on a new kind of goal: motivating women to become leaders.

“There has never been a more important, urgent time than right now for women to begin to fully lead our own lives,” she told me last week.

In her new book, Wolfpack, Wambach, 38, shares lessons she learned from decades of training, failure and triumph on the field.

It is based on the commencement speech she gave at Barnard College in New York last year that quickly went viral.

“If I could go back and tell my younger self one thing, it would be this: ‘Abby, you were never Little Red Riding Hood; you were always the wolf,’” she told graduates.

Her book’s release comes a month after the US women’s soccer team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation.

While Wambach is not part of the suit, she’s been outspoken on the subject.

“This isn’t just a female athlete’s story; this is every single woman’s story on planet Earth,” she said in September.

“Women lose our very lives because of this pay gap inequity, and in order to get it back we have to fight.”

In Wolfpack, Wambach offers eight new rules to help women succeed professionally and personally.

And she hopes her ideas trigger a domino effect.

“When one person stands up and demands the ball, the job, the promotion, the paycheque, the microphone, that one gives others permission to do the same,” she said.

Here are four of her “new rules,” and the norms she hopes they’ll upend.

Champion each other

Old Rule: Be against each other.

New Rule: Be FOR each other.

“Power and success and joy are not pies,” Wambach writes.

“A bigger slice for one woman doesn’t mean a smaller slice for another.”

Be grateful and ambitious

Old Rule: Be grateful for what you have.

New Rule: Be grateful for what you have AND demand what you deserve.

“I was so grateful for a paycheque, so grateful to represent my country, so grateful to be the token woman at the table, so grateful to receive any respect at all that I was afraid to use my voice to demand more,” Wambach writes.

“Our gratitude is how power uses the tokenism of a few women to keep the rest of us in line.”

Make failure your fuel

Old Rule: Failure means you’re out of the game.

New Rule: Failure means you’re finally IN the game.

“Imperfect men have been empowered and permitted to run the world since the beginning of time,” Wambach writes.

“It’s time for imperfect women to grant themselves permission to join them.”

Lead from the bench

Old Rule: Wait for permission to lead.

New Rule: Lead now — from wherever you are.

“The picture of leadership is not just a man at the head of a table,” Wambach writes.

“It’s also every woman who is allowing her own voice to guide her life and the lives of those she cares about.”

* Maya Salam writes about gender issues for The New York Times. She tweets at @Maya__Salam.

This article first appeared at www.nytimes.com.

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