Olympic runner Alysia Montaño on fighting pregnancy discrimination at Nike
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Runner Alysia Montaño won a world title in 2008 and Olympic medals in 2011 and 2013 - but one of her biggest challenges came from discrimination in the form of pregnancy. The mother of three children said when she signed a contract with Nike long before she had children, she learned that the brand had no fair guidelines for athletes who take maternity leave.
"A lot of sponsorship contracts [including mine] really didn't allow women a space where they could reasonably, if ever, pursue both maternity and athletic careers," recalls Montaño, on the phone as he advertised Munchkin's new prenatal line, milk maker. "So I took it to Nike 's head and asked," What would happen if I got pregnant? "
She was shocked by his answer. "'It is easy,' he told me. We will only pause your contract and will not pay you for the duration of your pregnancy and until you return," says Montaño.
As the 34-year-old found out, Nike treated the pregnancy like a sports industry, with sponsored athletes being excluded from payment until they could return to certain performance standards. Olympic athlete Kara Goucher, for example, became pregnant in 2010, but due to Nike guidelines, she started training only a week after birth - she even planned a half marathon three months after birth. When her son fell ill, she could not be in the hospital with him, but spent more time training to avoid losing more wages.
Montaño knew these stories and urged the Nike managers to consider changing the way the company handled maternity leave, but to no avail. "I've always had a conversation about some changes," she says. "And it was really only hit with icy faces. They would say, "It just won't happen."
Eventually Montaño ended her contract with Nike and switched to the sports brand Asics. But even there she was afraid to mention the words "pregnancy", "after birth" or "motherhood" when negotiating her contract based on her past experience. "[Pregnancy] was considered a shot in the foot," explains the athlete.
When she decided to start her family in 2014, Montaño was nervous about telling Asics the news, fearing that her salary would be suspended. Fortunately, she had a female ally in the company at the time who supported her choice and told her not to worry about her contract or possibly lose her salary before or after birth. Instead, Montaño focused on illuminating athletes like her by continuing to train during pregnancy. At 34 weeks, she even decided to take part in the Outdoor USA Championships 2014, which earned her a lot of attention as a “pregnant runner”.
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