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Just Women’s Sports’ Haley Rosen Shares Female Founder Path to Equality

People are often surprised when I tell them that before joining the workforce, I’d never really experienced sexism firsthand. Of course, I knew it existed—I’d heard all the stories and knew about systemic bias. I’d just never felt any of it impact my life in an immediate way. 

The fact I was so focused on soccer growing up certainly helped, as I was almost always on a team surrounded by 25 other empowered, competitive young women. This made experiencing sexism firsthand–witnessing women being openly treated as less capable because of their gender–fairly shocking, even if I knew I shouldn’t be surprised. 

 

The Only Girl in the Room

I know you’ve probably heard all the usual “Women in Silicon Valley” stories, and when I first sat down to write this piece I honestly questioned whether I had anything to add. For better or worse, my experiences aren’t especially original. As a solo female founder, I’ve often been the only girl in the room. I’ve actually received feedback on my ideas that focused only on my appearance. I’ve witnessed spontaneous, rambling rants about how women are just “too emotional to succeed as executives.” The fact that my experiences are fairly cliché is why pieces like this both need to be written and are so difficult to write.

Read the Crunchbase report – A Decade in Review: Funding to Female Founders

If my own journey is unique in any way, it’s in the fact that my company is fundamentally built on a belief in women. Just Women’s Sports was founded on the premise that female athletes are powerful, dynamic figures who haven’t been given the media attention they deserve. Our company exists because only 4 percent of sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sports; a percentage that has remained fixed for over a decade despite substantial increases in investment, viewership and attendance across women’s sports.

 

Women Sports Teams Fans Need More

The championship match of last summer’s World Cup had 260 million people tuned in, WNBA jersey sales have increased by 35 percent since 2018, and almost half of all D1 athletes are women, but coverage remains stuck at 4 percent, with some studies suggesting it may even be lower.

To me, it just doesn’t make sense. That 4 percent very clearly doesn’t match what’s happening elsewhere in the space, nor does it reflect the size of the fandom surrounding these women. It does, however, represent an incredible opportunity. While instinctively I wish that number was higher, I’m also unbelievably excited by just how much room there is to grow. And the moment for that growth is now. 

It’s almost too obvious to state, but people love sports, truly and deeply. Sports are so much more than mere passive entertainment. They’re the foundation underpinning popular culture and the closest thing we have to a universal language. Sports are an unmatched source of joy and inspiration in countless peoples’ lives, daily fulfilling some of our most basic needs for both thrilling drama and deep community. 

 

And yet, we only cover half of all sports stories. 

Anyone paying attention knows this is going to change. Every trend is pointing in the right direction, from participation to sponsorship, attendance to viewership. At this point, I can’t imagine a future in which women’s sports aren’t more mainstream. To me, it’s an inevitable truth, which is precisely what makes our present moment a golden opportunity for a media platform to establish itself as the destination for all things women’s sports. And if you haven’t already guessed, that’s exactly what we plan to do with Just Women’s Sports. 

Of course, I don’t expect everyone to share my exact vision. While most of the people I’ve talked with have generally agreed and are long on women’s sports, I’ve frankly been shocked by just how strong some people’s negative opinions are regarding the subject (and they only seem to be stronger the less someone knows about the space). 

“4 percent? It should probably be less.”

“Do people even watch women’s sports? It’s probably just because they feel bad. Sorry, but that’s the truth.” 

“People don’t think of female athletes as athletes. You should probably try to go for the lifestyle play.” 

Sometimes individuals are kind enough to be “scientific” in their criticism, politely informing me that women are simply smaller and less athletic than men, and therefore their sports will never be interesting. Let’s just get this out of the way now: I’m not here to argue with biology. I know LeBron James can jump higher than his WNBA peers. I don’t see a reason to pretend otherwise. I just genuinely think such comparisons miss the point. 

I don’t think sports would be the phenomenon they are if all we cared about was who could jump the highest or throw the farthest. People wouldn’t watch games if all they cared about were results. Athletes may compete to win, but fans tune in to watch athletes compete. It’s a subtle but crucial distinction. 

 

The Adrenaline Factor

Sports activate something in us that is far more essential than any number or score could ever suggest. This is why comparisons to men’s sports seem totally irrelevant to me, as what fascinates me about competition isn’t the outcome, but the way it forces individuals to maximize their potential. It’s the particulars of each athlete’s journey that fascinate me. It’s watching as they put a lifetime of dedication to the test, day in and day out. What makes women’s sports compelling isn’t how they stack up to men’s sports. It’s the women themselves and the dreams they fight to make real in full view of the public.  

From my perspective, what’s held women’s sports back isn’t men’s sports, but the fact that we’ve never given these females an opportunity to truly do their own thing. We’ve never let them tell their own stories or flaunt their own ambitions. And by not allowing them to fully express their potential as athletes, we’ve robbed ourselves of the power they wield to inspire and enthrall us. 

Sure, sexism plays a part. But that’s becoming easier to identify and denounce. In my opinion, one of the more subtle and pernicious hurdles is the fact that women’s sports are so often boxed into being something that’s either just for little girls or needs to be drowned in glitter in order to be considered commercially viable. 

Of course, female athletes are role models for kids. That should be a given, rather than the ultimate purpose of women’s sports. Because if we don’t allow these athletes to be athletes first and role models second, we reduce them to all telling the exact same bland story in which they only play their sport in order to inspire the next generation. That sameness is boring, to be frank, and robs sports of their ultimate draw, which is the opportunity to witness individuals constantly transcend themselves in their own unique pursuits of greatness. 

The downstream effects of celebrating female athletes for the athletes they are could be profound. I truly believe that if we want more women founding companies and holding C-Suite positions, and more women in congress and on company boards, it starts with sports. Sports drive culture, and it’s only in sports where we can celebrate competitive, determined women for the individuals they are, unique in their dreams and abilities, united by their common obsession with greatness. 

If we want to help the women of tomorrow, we should start by allowing female athletes to be badasses today.

 


female founder Haley Rosen Just Women's Sports

Haley Rosen received a BA and an MA from Stanford University, where she played as a midfielder for the Cardinal soccer team. After a brief professional soccer career in both the US and abroad, Haley returned to the Bay Area, where she first worked in tech before founding Just Women’s SportsRead more to learn the story behind Haley’s decision to launch a media company focused exclusively on women’s sports.

 

Cover photo by Tevarak Phanduang

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