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Game changer: Meet the trailblazer behind the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team

Alumna Becca Roux, who leads the team’s Players Association, heads to the World Cup next month, having helped them achieve equal pay last year.
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You may not know alumna Becca Roux’s (SFO 13-17) name, but you are probably aware of one of her major accomplishments. In 2022, Becca, who is Executive Director of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association, helped to negotiate equal pay for the team – a goal they had been striving to meet for several years.

Ahead of this year’s World Cup, which takes place from July 20 to August 20 in Australia and New Zealand, we sat down with Becca to talk about taking the team from pay gap to victory lap, the ripple effects of the decision, and her ongoing efforts to propel women’s soccer to new heights.

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The U.S. women's soccer team is the most successful of all women's soccer teams internationally. What do you think are the factors that contribute to that extraordinary success?

These women are unlike anybody else I've ever encountered. They have a competitive drive and confidence that is out of this world. It’s who they are as individuals but also collectively as a team. And they’re smart – these are very smart, educated women. Many of them went to top universities around the country.

They have an innate belief that they're going to make the roster, they're going to start, and they're going to win. They strive for excellence in everything they do, and that includes off the field as well. They embody that singular, focused drive that is necessary to be that successful at that level. It's amazing to witness, truly.

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Photo credit: US Soccer

You were very involved in the negotiations to achieve “equal pay for equal work” for the women’s team. Tell us about what that meant for you personally and also what it meant as far as advancing women's sports internationally.

I think that's why I was initially drawn to come and work with this group in 2017. I saw that it could have ripple effects beyond how it impacted the team.

When I was at McKinsey, there was a lot of work being done at the Firm, including the Lean In initiative, that was about gender equity and unearthing systemic issues as to why there may be some gender pay gaps. That was on my mind when I started looking into the team’s financials.

I looked at what money the team was bringing in and dug in and found that the way their commercial contracts were structured was not well suited to benefit the women. A lot of people say the team didn’t get equal pay because the revenues were low. My point was always, "That's an output. What are the inputs?” There were a lot of factors that played into what became a perpetual cycle of undervaluing the women's team as an asset.

In the EA Sports FIFA video game, for example, they were in the top 25 most-played teams in the game. That was a clear, objective data point that there was value there. There was just nobody out there trying to capture that value. And so much of women's sports, I think, is just about underinvestment.

I thought [achieving equality] would take a lot less time, because I was able to pull out a bunch of data and put it in front of some of the decision makers on the other side, and that was not what happened. There are emotions that come into play, and sometimes when you point out that people have been doing something that looks like discrimination for over a decade or longer, they don't always react well to that. So, it took a bit of time. We did not achieve equal pay in the first collective bargaining agreement – we achieved it officially in 2022.

A lot of what the team and I have done together is to look at the entire ecosystem within sport and try to change hearts and minds and convince people to invest, which is not easy.

What knock-on effects has that had?

There have been massive steps forward from other national teams and other women within soccer. Now that they've seen somebody else do it successfully, there has been so much more willingness for teams to raise their hand and say, "we deserve that, too." Twenty-five national team members across the world signed a letter that was sent to FIFA last fall via the international union called FIFPRO.

In March, FIFA announced that they were increasing the World Cup prize money to a level that was higher than what they were initially planning on doing and trying to have a path towards equality for 2026 and 2027.

And they also equalized the working conditions, which means business class for all players flying into the Women's World Cup, the number of delegation members that they pay for, etc. All of that had been less than what they did for the men’s teams. Because of that willingness for players to make the ask, they actually did listen, and we saw progress that, four years ago, was not even something they were willing to talk about.

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Photo credit: Zhizhao Wu | Getty Images

What does a typical day for you involve?

There are three different parts of my job, and a typical day could include elements of each. First, there's the running of the organization: the budget, the accounting, the finances. We have a three-person board, so it's doing things like following bylaws and running elections. And a major part of being a labor organization is collective bargaining, so it's both doing the collective bargaining agreement – planning for it, negotiating it – but also now enforcing it and doing all the implementation.

That can also involve strategic thinking about what our long-term vision is over the next five years, and then figuring out what we want to negotiate for.

Second is our commercial arm. We have an equity stake in something called OneTeam Partners that acts as our agency for all of our players' name, image, and likeness rights relating to consumer products and video games. I sit on that board. We have commercial deals with almost forty licensees. So that involves negotiating the terms or reviewing contracts, reviewing products that are going out, and creating go-to-market strategies.

The third part is around social impact. The equal pay was part of economic justice overall, and we're also interested in expanding opportunities for girls and women in sport.

What learnings did you take from McKinsey that you apply to what you do now?

At a very basic problem-solving level, it's structuring the problem. That was step one in achieving equal pay – taking rant sessions and putting them into a structured problem so that there was then a pathway to address things.

I also use McKinsey skills in creating a long-term strategy and thinking about how to create a vision that is reflective of what my clients – the players – want, and then putting that into tangible tactics.

I use a lot of McKinsey decision-making tools, too – surveys, and workshops where we identify the players’ top priorities.

What are you most excited about for next month’s Women’s World Cup?

First, that it's in New Zealand and Australia. I think the destination's going to be amazing.

Also, the team has a chance to “three-peat,” and, for the first time, they're going to really get to focus on just being soccer players. So that makes me really excited.

It’s going to be the biggest World Cup that there's ever been, with 32 teams instead of 24, as there were in the previous World Cup.

What’s next for the team beyond the World Cup?

There's a lot of work still to do, because there are a lot of people that don't quite understand the value that's there. We are getting more and more good data points, like the EA video game statistic, that we can put in front of people, but it is a constant selling process.

We're trying to raise the team’s profile through consumer products. Look out for some fun stuff coming out this summer, because it is the most comprehensive consumer products program for any women's sport in the world.

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