Maya Payne Smart and Gender Inequality in the United States of America

Victoria Zawitkowski
Staff Columnist

Gender inequality is not a thing of the past. Women’s talents are too often ignored in favor of their male counterparts. The most obvious example of this is when it comes to unequal wages, but the discrimination runs deeper than that. It’s unfair to disregard the accomplishments of a woman because she has a successful husband.

According to the World Economic Forum, the United States was just recently ranked 20th in gender equality out of 142 countries. Saying our country is in the top-20 may not sound too bad, but this is also after we ranked 23rd last year, even behind many developing countries. The areas we are weakest in when it comes to gender equality are economic participation and political empowerment. There is also a discrepancy among states. For gender equality in the U.S. Virginia is ranked 43rd.

Even in the melting pot that is Richmond, and the even more diverse campus of VCU, recognition and compensation for men and women is incredibly uneven.

Many people know Maya Payne Smart as Shaka Smart’s wife. Yet her accomplishments are as impressive and influential as her husband’s, and they are independent of basketball. Smart is an exception to the statistics we normally see about women in the professional world.

Smart received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and then a master’s from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Her first job was investment banking, but she decided she wanted to write instead. She owned her own writing, editing and consulting brand called Ralston Payne Enterprises LLC, which is notable in and of itself. It is still rare for women to own or manage their own companies. Less than 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies have female chief executives. Of those female CEOs, the majority of them are paid less than males in the same position.

Smart now has a blog in which she sheds light on influential business women, like herself, many of whom work for nonprofits. She has a list of accomplishments that make her a great role model for students at VCU. Shaka Smart is not more or less impressive, but he and his team are definitely more recognized on a local and national level. The women in sports, with perhaps just as much talent, are not held in as high regard.

Female athletes are under-represented in the media. While 40 percent of athletes are women, they receive only 4 percent of the media coverage. The men’s basketball team has created a lot of publicity and therefore revenue for VCU, especially under Coach Smart. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, male athletes receive $179 million more in athletic scholarships than female athletes do each year. This does not mean there aren’t just as many female athletes that are worth the same kind of attention, but that men are paid more than women even in the world of sports.

Perhaps more important than any of her many professional accolades, Smart is a mother. It would be hard to argue that having children does not make it more difficult to keep up with your professional life. The U.S. does not guarantee workers a paid maternity or paternity leave, unlike many other countries. Instead, U.S. employers generally expect women to be the ones to give up their professional pursuits in order to run their home and raise their children.

Gender equality is often misconstrued as a fight between the sexes. It is not that one is better than the other, but that men and women should both have the same choices, opportunities and rewards for the same performance. Many countries offer both maternity and paternity leave to new parents, instead of singling out the mother with that option and creating an absence of choice. It is not that one Smart is better than the other, but that we place more importance on the job of the men’s basketball team and its coach. That gives less incentive to women who are performing at that same level, playing the same sport. VCU has bred a culture that thrives on the men’s Rams and their coach. I suggest we start to give some of the women credit where credit is due.

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