When Allyson Felix’s daughter Camryn was born premature at 32 weeks in 2018, it was a lonely time for the runner. Just a few years ago, vulnerability was something that female athletes didn’t publicly discuss. But now, things are different. A growing community of Black women athletes—like Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, and Simone Biles—are speaking openly about urgent issues like mental health, maternal health, athlete safety, and equal pay. “When you speak your truth, things happen,” says Felix, who takes inspiration from her peers. “You draw power from one another.”
The athlete, 36, had a big year in 2021. Her two medals at the Tokyo Olympics made her the all-time most decorated woman in track, and she earned that distinction wearing shoes made by Saysh, the women’s lifestyle brand she launched just weeks before the Games.
Now, as Felix is retired from Olympic competition but still considering racing at the world championships in Eugene, Ore., in July, her life looks drastically different. Instead of waking up to train, she logs on to Zoom to catch up with her 30 employees, most of whom are women.
The culture of Saysh is important to Felix. In 2019, she wrote an op-ed for the New York Times alleging that Nike, her sponsor, wanted to pay her 70% less after she had a child. She called out an industry “where the rules are still mostly made for and by men.” That’s why, when building Saysh, a strong parental-leave policy was a top priority. Felix wanted to give her employees, and herself, options. After talking with her staff, Felix landed on four months of fully paid parental leave, plus a two-month transition period at part-time status (and overlap with their replacement hire), a new-parent stipend, and postpartum mental-health resources. And, as a company founded during the pandemic, it has a hybrid work-from-home policy. “For someone like me, who has come from an individual sport,” Felix says, “it has been really exciting to be deeply collaborative with other people.”
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