Thanks, Pat. Thank you! Getting me all wound up, now!
Good! You know, when I was watching the video again of the match, you must have felt like the fate of the world's women was on every stroke you took. Were you feeling that?
First of all, Bobby Riggs—he was the former number one player, he wasn't just some hacker, by the way. He was one of my heroes and I admired him. And that's the reason I beat him, actually, because I respected him.
It's true—my mom and especially my dad always said: "Respect your opponent, and never underestimate them, ever." And he was correct. He was absolutely correct. But I knew it was about social change. And I was really nervous whenever we announced it, and I felt like the whole world was on my shoulders. And I thought, "If I lose, it's going to put women back 50 years, at least." Title IX had just been passed the year before—June 23, 1972. And women's professional tennis—there were nine of us who signed a one-dollar contract in 1970—now remember, the match is in '73. So we were only in our third year of having a tour where we could actually play, have a place to compete and make a living. So there were nine of us that signed that one-dollar contract. And our dream was for any girl, born any place in the world—if she was good enough—there would be a place for her to compete and for us to make a living. Because before 1968, we made 14 dollars a day, and we were under the control of organizations. So we really wanted to break away from that. But we knew it wasn't really about our generation so much; we knew it was about the future generations.
We do stand on the shoulders of the people that came before us, there is no question. But every generation has the chance to make it better. That was really on my mind. I really wanted to start matching the hearts and minds to Title IX. Title IX, in case anybody doesn't know, which a lot of people probably don't, said that any federal funds given to a high school, college or university, either public or private, had to—finally—give equal monies to boys and girls. And that changed everything.
So you can have a law, but it's changing the hearts and minds to match up with it. That's when it really rocks, totally. So that was on my mind. I wanted to start that change in the hearts and minds. But two things came out of that match. For women: self-confidence, empowerment. They actually had enough nerve to ask for a raise. Some women have waited 10, 15 years to ask. I said, "More importantly, did you get it?"
And they did! And for the men? A lot of the men today don't realize it, but if you're in your 50s, 60s or whatever, late 40s, you're the first generation of men of the Women's Movement—whether you like it or not!
And for the men, what happened for the men, they'd come up to me—and most times, the men are the ones who have tears in their eyes, it's very interesting. They go, "Billie, I was very young when I saw that match, and now I have a daughter. And I am so happy I saw that as a young man." And one of those young men, at 12 years old, was President Obama. And he actually told me that when I met him, he said:"You don't realize it, but I saw that match at 12. And now I have two daughters, and it has made a difference in how I raise them." So both men and women got a lot out of it, but different things.
And now there are generations—at least one or two—who have experienced the equality that Title IX and other fights along the way made possible. And for women, there are generations who have also experienced teamwork. They got to play team sports in a way they hadn't before. So you had a legacy already built in terms of being an athlete, a legacy of the work you did to lobby for equal pay for women athletes and the Women's Sports Foundation. What now are you looking to accomplish with The Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative?
I think it goes back to an epiphany I had at 12. At 11, I wanted to be the number one tennis player in the world, and a friend had asked me to play and I said, "What's that?" Tennis was not in my family—basketball was, other sports. Fast forward to 12 years old,
and I'm finally starting to play in tournaments where you get a ranking at the end of the year. So I was daydreaming at the Los Angeles Tennis Club, and I started thinking about my sport and how tiny it was, but also that everybody who played wore white shoes, white clothes, played with white balls—everybody who played was white. And I said to myself, at 12 years old, "Where is everyone else?" And that just kept sticking in my brain. And that moment, I promised myself I'd fight for equal rights and opportunities for boys and girls, men and women, the rest of my life. And that tennis, if I was fortunate enough to become number one—and I knew, being a girl, it would be harder to have influence, already at that age—that I had this platform. And tennis is global. And I thought, "You know what? I've been given an opportunity that very few people have had." I didn't know if I was going to make it—this was only 12. I sure wanted it, but making it is a whole other discussion. I just remember I promised myself, and I really try to keep my word. That's who I truly am, just fighting for people.
And, unfortunately, women have had less. And we are considered less. And so my attentions, where did they have to go? It was just ... you have to. And learn to stick up for yourself, hear your own voice. You hear the same words keep coming out all the time, and I got really lucky because I had an education. And I think if you can see it you can be it, you know? If you can see it, you can be it. You look at Pat, you look at other leaders, you look at these speakers, look at yourself, because everyone—everyone—can do something extraordinary. Every single person.
And your story, Billie, has inspired so many women everywhere. Now with the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, you're taking on an even bigger cause. Because one thing we hear a lot about is women taking their voice, working to find their way into leadership positions. But what you're talking about is even bigger than that. It's inclusive leadership. And this is a generation that has grown up thinking more inclusively—
Isn't it great? Look at the technology! It's amazing how it connects us all! It's about connection. It's simply amazing what's possible because of it. But the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative is really about the workforce mostly, and trying to change it, so people can actually go to work and be their authentic selves.
Because most of us have two jobs: One, to fit in—I'll give you a perfect example. An African American woman gets up an hour earlier to go to work, straightens her hair in the bathroom, goes to the bathroom probably four, five, six times a day to keep straightening her hair, to keep making sure she fits in. So she's working two jobs. She's got this other job, whatever that may be, but she's also trying to fit in. Or this poor man who kept his diploma—he went to University of Michigan, but he never would talk about his poverty as a youngster, ever—just would not mention it. So he made sure they saw he was well-educated. And then you see a gay guy who has an NFL—which means American football for all of you out there, it's a big deal, it's very macho—and he talked about football all the time, because he was gay and he didn't want anybody to know. It just goes on and on. So my wish for everyone is to be able to be their authentic self 24/7, that would be the ultimate. And we catch ourselves—I mean, I catch myself to this day. Even being gay I catch myself, you know, like,
a little uncomfortable, a little surge in my gut, feeling not totally comfortable in my own skin. So, I think you have to ask yourself—I want people to be themselves, whatever that is, just let it be.
And the first research the Leadership Initiative did showed that, that these examples you just used—that many of us have the problem of being authentic. But what you've just looked at is this millennial generation, who have benefited from all these equal opportunities—which may not be equal but exist everywhere—
First of all, I'm really lucky. Partnership with Teneo, a strategic company that's amazing. That's really the reason I'm able to do this. I've had two times in my life where I've actually had men really behind me with power. And that was in the old days with Philip Morris with Virginia Slims, and this is the second time in my entire life. And then Deloitte. The one thing I wanted was data—facts. So Deloitte sent out a survey, and over 4,000 people now have answered, and we're continuing in the workplace.
And what do the millennials feel? Well, they feel a lot, but what they're so fantastic about is—you know, our generation was like, "Oh, we're going to get representation." So if you walk into a room, you see everybody represented. That's not good enough anymore, which is so good! So the millennials are fantastic; they want connection, engagement. They just want you to tell us what you're feeling, what you're thinking, and get into the solution. They're problem-solvers, and of course, you've got the information at your fingertips, compared to when I was growing up.
What did the research show you about millennials? Are they going to make a difference? Are they going to create a world where there is really an inclusive work force?
Well, in 2025, 75 percent of the global workforce is going to be millennials. I think they are going to help solve problems. I think they have the wherewithal to do it. I know they care a lot. They have big ideas and they can make big things happen. I want to stay in the now with the young people, I don't want to get behind.
I don't think there's any chance! But what you found out in the research about millennials is not really the experience that a lot of people have with millennials.
No, well, if we want to talk—OK, I've been doing my little mini-survey. I've been talking to the Boomers, who are their bosses, and I go, "What do you think about the millennials?" And I'm pretty excited, like it's good, and they get this face—
"Oh, you mean the 'Me' generation?"
I say, "Do you really think so? Because I do think they care about the environment and all these things."And they go, "Oh, Billie, they cannot focus."
They actually have proven that the average focus for an 18-year-old is 37 seconds.
They can't focus. And they don't really care. I just heard a story the other night: a woman owns a gallery and she has these workers. She gets a text from one of the workers, like an intern, she's just starting—she goes, "Oh, by the way, I'm going to be late because I'm at the hairdresser's."
So she arrives, and this boss says, "What's going on?" And she says, "Oh, I was late, sorry, how's it going?" She says, "Well, guess what? I'd like you leave, you're finished." She goes, "OK."
No problem! PM: Now Billie, that story—I know, but that's what scares the boomers—I'm just telling you—so I think it's good for us to share.
No, it is good for us to share, because we're our authentic selves and what we're really feeling, so we've got to take it both ways, you know? But I have great faith because—if you've been in sports like I have—every generation gets better. It's a fact. With the Women's Sports Foundation being the advocates for Title IX still, because we're trying to keep protecting the law, because it's in a tenuous position always, so we really are concerned, and we do a lot of research. That's very important to us. And I want to hear from people. But we really have to protect what Title IX stands for worldwide. And you heard President Carter talk about how Title IX is protected. And do you know that every single lawsuit that girls, at least in sports, have gone up against—whatever institutions—has won? Title IX is there to protect us. And it is amazing. But we still have to get the hearts and minds—the hearts and minds to match the legislation is huge.
So what gets you up every morning? What keeps you sustaining your work, sustaining the fight for equality, extending it, always exploring new areas, trying to find new ways ... ?
Well, I always drove my parents crazy because I was always the curious one. I'm highly motivated. My younger brother was a Major League Baseball player. My poor parents did not care if we were any good.
And we drove them crazy because we pushed, we pushed because we wanted to be the best. And I think it's because of what I'm hearing today in TED talks. I think to listen to these different women, to listen to different people, to listen to President Carter—90 years old, by the way, and he we was throwing these figures out that I would never—I'd have to go, "Excuse me, wait a minute, I need to get a list out of these figures." He was rattling off—I mean, that's amazing, I'm sorry.
He's an amazing man.
And then you're going to have President Mary Robinson, who's a former president—Thank you, Irish! 62 percent! LGBTQ! Yes!
Congress is voting in June on same-sex marriage, so these are things that for some people are very hard to hear. But always remember, every one of us is an individual, a human being with a beating heart, who cares and wants to live their authentic life. OK? You don't have to agree with somebody, but everyone has the opportunity.
I think we all have an obligation to continue to keep moving the needle forward, always. And these people have been so inspiring. Everyone matters. And every one of you is an influencer. You out there listening, out there in the world, plus the people here—every single person's an influencer. Never, ever forget that. OK? So don't ever give up on yourself.
Billie, you have been an inspiration for us.
Thanks a lot!