Serena Williams focusing on business, charity and family while away from tennis
While no one would fault Serena Williams if she wanted to slow down a bit during her pregnancy, she keeps going. If she's unable to take the court to vie for a record 24th Grand Slam win, then she's going to use her time away from tennis to cultivate other parts of her life.
In mid-May, she was on stage at ESPN's Upfront presentation. Later that month, she announced a new role on the board of SurveyMonkey. And on Friday afternoon at the SheKnows Media #BlogHer17 conference in Orlando, Florida, she was announced as the new ambassador for the Allstate Foundation Purple Purse.
"I want to do things I feel like I can connect to," Williams told me of joining the insurance company's domestic violence initiative. "I don't really know anyone personally that's been involved in domestic violence, but I feel like it's something we all face as a society. I do some things with violence through the Yetunde Price Resource Center [created in honor of her sister, killed in a shooting in 2003], and I felt like it all clicked together."
The Purple Purse focuses on the financial side of domestic violence and the ways abusers can keep their partners from leaving by restricting access to funds or denying them the ability to work.
"It's an invisible form of abuse that I think people really don't know about and don't see," Williams said on stage, speaking to president of SheKnows Media Samantha Skey. (Full disclosure, I'm also a speaker at the event.) "When they think of abuse, they think of cuts and bruises and stuff like that."
One in four American women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Center for Financial Security at University of Wisconsin-Madison reports that 99 percent of those cases involve financial abuse.
As a strong, financially independent woman, Williams is seeking to raise the profile of victims who want to leave an abusive relationship but feel trapped.
"I don't know what they're going through and I'm not going to sit here and say 'I know how you feel,'" Williams said. "But what I can do is be their voice and help [other] people understand what they're going through."
Williams also talked to Skey about the decision to get involved with SurveyMonkey and join the tech world.
"That was one of my goals for the beginning of the year -- to be able to take myself and my entrepreneurship and my philanthropy to a new level," she said. "I was really excited when Sheryl [Sandberg] called me and was like, 'We have some seats open and we want to interview you. We really would love for you to sit on our board.'
"Silicon Valley is really, really, really not open yet to having a lot of women or anyone of color, male or female. Those two barriers alone are really things we have to break down in the fastest-growing part of the world in general in technology. It's really important to me to not just be a seat warmer but to really be a voice."
And of course as she nears the birth of her first child, Williams is thinking about the future. She's keenly aware of the things she learned from her parents, Oracene Price and Richard Williams. She called her mother "unbreakable" and said lately the lessons of her youth are top of mind.
"All those lessons that she taught me of being so strong, of being proud of who I am, of being able to look anyone in the face with confidence ... it's something that I really have been able to embrace," Williams said. "And I would love to teach my kid that."
I don't know what they're going through and I'm not going to sit here and say 'I know how you feel.' But what I can do is be their voice and help [other] people understand what they're going through.Serena Williams
Williams' father, who was also her first coach, taught her the importance of discipline.
"Whether you're starting your own company, you need the discipline to do it every day -- day in and day out," she said. "Athletes, you have to have that discipline to go to work every day, and I feel just as a person, being a good person, giving back to your community, being a part of philanthropy, supporting girls, supporting women, it takes a lot of discipline.
"I feel like my dad was able to give me so much discipline and structure in my life. I love that I'm still appreciating all the things that my parents have given me."
When asked what she would tell her 12-year-old self, Williams was quick to answer.
"I wouldn't tell myself anything," she said. "I feel like everything I've went through -- bad, good, great -- has made me the person I am today. And I probably wouldn't be here if I had a little cheat sheet of what to do.
"I feel it's really important to go through life's experiences, as hard as they are. You know they have this old adage -- well, in sci-fi movies. You can't talk to yourself if you go and you travel in time. It could change everything."
She did come up with one piece of advice, though.
"Oh but I would say invest!" she said. "Put all your money in Facebook! And Apple! Just throw everything in there!"
Williams was quick to laugh throughout the day and seemed more than satisfied with her life away from tennis. Newly engaged, expecting her first child and staying busy with philanthropy and business, she's perhaps more balanced than one might expect. Although she did reveal a desire to get back to the court.
She was asked about "winning women" -- those who are willing to fight ferociously for victory on the court or in the boardroom without fear of looking less than perfect or hurting feelings along the way. While trying to articulate her thoughts on the subject, Williams had a telling Freudian slip.
"We all are winning Wimbledon," she said with a laugh. "Wimbledon is around the corner, and I'm clearly missing it! Oh man! ... No! I'm winning Wimbledon, not you guys! But it is around the corner, it's like next week, I'm having a little bit of a withdrawal right now."
So while Williams may be devoting her time to baby and boardroom now, there's no doubt she's ready to get back to tennis.