Lindsay Kagawa Colas was regaling the audience of about 200 women with stories from her experience as one of the top sports agents especially for female athletes, including WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner, or “BG” as she’s known. Accompanying her on the panel was Kelley O’Hara of the U.S. Women’s Soccer World-Cup Winning Team, and Representative Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, with Elizabeth Ralph of Politico moderating the discussion to an audience gathered by Politico’s Women Rule in downtown Washington, DC the other day. It was as if we were a handful of women friends chatting over coffee or an adult beverage.
The stories Colas told included her own days as a college athlete (like that they had urinals in the women’s locker room) and about what goes on outside the view of fans, especially how little women athletes are paid compared to their male counterparts. That’s why BG was playing basketball in Russia in the first place, when she was arrested on her way home, allegedly on drug charges for possessing a scant amount of cannabis oil.
Little did we know that Colas probably knew, as she was speaking on that stage at that exact moment, that Griner was leaving the Russian prison and heading back to the U.S. That’s likely why Colas left the event right after her panel.
Colas and O’Hara described how they secured landmark deals for their female athletes, including the U.S. Women’s Soccer team’s historic collective bargaining agreement (CBA) earlier this year with pay equity. O’Hara and USWNT’s negotiating team even secured better benefits and rights for the men.
Representative Sherrill, herself a former college athlete and Navy veteran, talked about the bill she co-sponsored to create a Congressional commission to study pay equity in the NCAA.
Here are 8 negotiating tips from what Colas, O’Hara and Sherrill said works for them:
1. Over-prepare: “What I’ve learned is that preparation is so important. We do meticulous preparation. We have extensive spreadsheets of forecasting and projections, and we go into negotiations with a strategy,” O’Hara explained. They came in armed with data and prepared for all counter-arguments, including the differences in ratings, performance, advertising revenue, investments in everything from travel to training facilities to turf, and facts to disprove misreporting in the public domain.
2. Make the business case: “I just think that going in fact-based, prepared, not emotional and present the evidence to support what you’re asking for is the best way to get what you want. And I’ve seen it work,” O’Hara said. Demonstrating that the market was there to justify the investment in these talented players was key.
3. Figure out what you want – and trade-offs you’re willing to make: Prioritize. “We as players sit down in committees and prioritize what’s important to us,” O’Hara added. “What do we want to see from this negotiation? What are we willing to give here?”
4. Use the “rule of three”: Colas said there needs to be “over-indexing” for females, especially in athletics, to make up for many years of severe under-payment. She wrote an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times around the time that BG was arrested in Russia about the fact that Griner was playing in Russia to make up for being so drastically underpaid in the U.S. “What I wrote about includes sort of that rule of three and asking for three times the investment to really be the standard. It’s like equal should be the expectation, that should be minimum is equal,” she explained. “I think we need to over-index it. It needs to be three x or more to get to that point. And it’s going to be better for everyone in doing so.”
5. “It’s not just about wages anymore”: That’s what Kate Gebo, EVP of Human Resources and Labor Relations at United Airlines said on the event’s earlier panel. “It’s about the purpose of the company. It’s about the flexibility….Care about them as a human being.” For the top athletes, the issues include sponsorships, compensation for their likeness, childcare, paid leave, fertility care, and 401Ks. O’Hara said their CBA secured childcare and 401Ks for the men for the first time too.
6. Partner with others to drive change: “I would say the power is in the collective. And I’ve seen how unity and all being together in one direction, on one issue can drive change” O’Hara insisted. “I’ve seen it happen many times with the national team. You can see it, you know, with people rallying around BG and as females you need that. The power is in the collective. Do not underestimate what you can do when you come together as a group.”
7. Seek systemic change: The Women’s Soccer Team’s historic pay equity deal changed the game for all female athletes. The lucrative deals that Colas negotiates for her professional athlete clients chips away at the culture that has underpaid females in sports for decades. Rep. Sherrill’s legislation to study the NCAA’s compensation program for female athletes and professionals is seeking broad systemic fixes to level the playing field.
8. Demand transparency: As part of their negotiation, these women insist on transparency. “Minimum is us asking for transparency or demanding transparency the same we would with, like, you know, climate change,” Colas stressed. “Let’s have transparency in and around what sponsors are doing with the NCAA, for example.”
“Everybody can do something”
“Everybody can do something, from wherever you sit, you do have power,” Colas closed the session saying.
“You are not powerless. Everyone has something to do. It may be as simple as asking the bar in a hotel to turn on a women’s game…It’s buying a ticket. It’s buying a jersey. It’s clicking on an article.”
“Vote with your dollar, but there’s tons of other ways to support. So, I think it’s, do what you can and know what you want.”
To read Lindsay Kagawa Colas’s and Wasserman Agency’s statement upon the release of Brittney Griner from Russia, click here.
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