When asked about whether or not she has experienced discrimination because of her gender, Serena Williams recently told HuffPost, “As one of the leaders in women’s sports, it just happens a lot. I mean every day.”
Williams is quick to acknowledge that women who came before — women of her mother’s generation — experienced greater adversity when it came to gender and racial inequity; and she appreciates that she has reaped the benefits from those earlier trailblazers. Williams is hoping that her own actions will contribute to a more equitable experience for her daughter and wants to use her platform to help future generations.
That idea — that record-breakers and champions of previous generations have shattered ceilings, unlocked opportunities and paved the way for gender parity for current and future generations — is at the crux of Secret Deodorant’s new partnership with Williams.
The partnership, which was formally announced last month at the MAKERS conference, kicks off with the brand’s new campaign called “Not The First,” which aims to tackle gender equality in sports with the insight that the current generation of female athletes is no longer the generation of “firsts.”
In the campaign’s video (above), Williams highlights that she was not the first to win a grand slam tournament — nor will she be the last. In a culture where a woman has garnered 23 grand slam titles ― as Williams has done ― Secret postulates that the conversation is shifting: Women are no longer a novelty; women belong in the game. Or, as the campaign tagline states, Equality Takes More Than Firsts.
Beyond her grand slam titles and her four Olympic medals, it’s what Williams personifies for women that inspired the partnership with Secret. “What we love about her is that she balances [her accolades] with being a dedicated sister, daughter, mother and champion for women both on and off the court,” Sara Saunders, associate brand director for Secret, shared at the MAKERS conference. “To us, to women everywhere, she really embodies ‘All Strength No Sweat’.”
The Williams partnership is a continuation of Secret Deodorant’s larger “All Strength No Sweat” campaign, which has focused on championing equality for women in historically male-dominated industries.
With a goal to take what Saunders refers to as “tangible action,” the brand has fostered mentorship programs for women in music, commissioning a catchy empowerment anthem by award-winning singer, Jessie Reyez. During the holidays, the brand highlighted female entrepreneurs by creating an online shopping network to promote women-owned businesses.
But in perhaps its most dramatic and public demonstration of support for equal pay, Secret — a World Cup sponsor — openly sided with the Women’s U.S. Soccer Team in their controversy with the league for pay parity, urging the federation to “be on the right side of history.” The company pledged a donation of $529,000 to the team players association, equal to $23,000 for each of the 23 players on the team.
Williams feels that the brand has a stake in the conversation, and said in a statement, “Secret carries a strong reputation of supporting equal opportunity and representation for women. It is crucial to me that I use my platform to inspire change and support all women, particularly women of color because we are often overlooked and underestimated. I am excited and honored to partner with Secret to inspire a brighter future where women no longer have to be labeled as the ‘First.’”
Secret calculates that the company spent more than $1 million over the past year in contributions towards equality for women and, at the MAKERS conference, Saunders announced a pledge to provide an additional $1 million in the coming year.
As part of the campaign, Secret plans to launch a study on equality for women in sports, which will help guide the brand for areas of focus. Saunders told the audience at MAKERS, “We’re going to study things that women in high school all the way up through professional athletes, the things that they are uncovering, the things that they are dealing with every day from an equality standpoint; and we’re going to go straight after those as a brand with Serena’s help.”
In addition to Williams, the “Not The First” campaign features Swin Cash, the Olympic Gold medalist and former basketball superstar. “As a woman of color, I understand the difficulties that can arise while trying to make headway in a male-dominated Sports and Media industry.” Cash said. “Secret has a history of supporting equal opportunity for women by spotlighting and celebrating our stories, and ‘Not The First’ is no different. I am honored to pay tribute to my role models, inspire honest dialogue and motivate women to keep pushing so they aren’t the last!”
“We have focused on women that have embodied strength and [who do] not sweat obstacles in [their] way,” Saunders said.
The ultimate goal for Secret, as Saunders described to the audience at MAKERS, is to “take a stance and use our brand voice as a tangible force for good for women.”
Williams believes that her partnership with Secret is important to help move the conversation and culture forward. “It’s important to realize that, yeah, we’ve come a long way,” Williams told HuffPost. “But we’re not done, and we have a really big way to go.”
From Secret Deodorant:
Through the years, Secret Deodorant has proudly supported women’s advancement and equality. The “All Strength, No Sweat” campaign is a continuation of the brand’s commitment to women, celebrating those who boldly challenge the status quo, push through barriers and stand up for what they believe in, without “sweating” the obstacles that may come their way. Secret challenges women everywhere to be all strength, no sweat.
This article was paid for by Secret Deodorant and co-created by RYOT Studio. HuffPost editorial staff did not participate in the creation of this content.