In January 2017, world champion athlete Serena Williams walked off the court at the Australian Open, having earned her place as the world’s number one tennis player, despite playing the tournament while in her first trimester. Yet, when she stepped onto the court at the 2018 French Open, she was ranked just 451st globally. The reason for Williams’ dramatic descent in the rankings? Her decision to take a year of maternity leave to have her first child.
In some ways, Williams’ experience is specific to the world of tennis, with much of
the debate centering around a practice known as ‘seeding’ which protects top players – although, seemingly, not those returning from maternity leave. But away from the court, Williams’ experience reflects a daily reality for working mothers around the world as they encounter the maternal wall. While we would have liked to see her challenge the WTA for discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy, we also understand her desire to prove herself on the court. Because that’s what women often feel they need to do: prove their value, their worth, all over again. But this time, with more pressure.
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