20 March 2018 - Post by:Robbie Sinclair
Imagine a woman returning from maternity leave to be told that she can do the same job but due to her absence she has lost her seniority status and all the benefits that went along with it. Unthinkable! But that is how it works in the world of tennis. Take 23-time Grand Slam winner, Serena Williams, for example. Before taking time off to have her daughter, Serena’s official WTA ranking was number one after winning the Australian Open in 2017. Back on the circuit now after maternity leave, she is unseeded for the Miami Open, her past track record counting for very little except guaranteed entry to a number of events.
It’s so old fashioned and sends the wrong message to young female tennis players entering the sport. Is a message that says “if you want to have babies, it’s best to retire” appropriate? Who can forget Andre Agassi and Steffi Graff: Steffi was more successful but it was her career that had to end in order to raise a family. And whilst that was her personal choice, the seeding rules do not encourage women back onto the circuit and, as a result, there is a lack of female role models. I think tennis could learn a thing or two from our employment law rules, which provide a framework of rights to protect pregnant women and those returning from maternity leave. The relatively new rules on shared parental leave, where the couple can share pretty much everything (should they choose) without having to forfeit seniority or other workplace rights, sends a very strong and contemporary message to men, women and society on gender equality.
It can be the same for women. Well, almost!