THE BLOG
11/19/2014 05:32 pm ET Updated Jan 19, 2015

Bottom Line: It's All About Inclusion

Ninety million people worldwide watched me step onto the tennis court to defeat Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of Sexes" 41 years ago. Looking back, my victory was more than a point of athletic pride -- it was about social change, part of a growing movement that showed women were equal to men.

Four decades later I'm proud of the progress that has been made -- not only in sports but in politics, in the workplace, in corporate board rooms, in pay equity and in our daily lives. However, so much more remains to be done. The match for equality that was started on that day in 1973 still in many ways continues today.

There exists a tremendous amount of untapped human potential due to deeply rooted discrimination based on race, gender, sexuality and age, among other factors. Despite making up approximately half of the global population, just 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. African-Americans and Latinos are also vastly underrepresented, making up just over 1 percent and 2 percent of CEOs respectively. We will never achieve our vast potential until our leaders -- across all sectors -- look at differences through a new lens: where individuals are embraced for their unique contributions rather than punished or judged for what makes them different.

To celebrate this difference I've decided to focus my energy and passion on fostering a new inclusive path forward. With the founding of the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative (BJKLI), which officially launches today, we have a new organization -- a movement to inspire future leaders and to motivate people in positions of power to promote diverse identities. By focusing on leadership, we will move the needle on issues that are thwarting the emergence of diverse talent globally.

Joining me and guiding me on this journey is a world-class advisory board comprised of fearless thought-leaders, each of whom understands what it takes to effect transformation and has already been a catalyst for positive change. With the help of our founding partner, Teneo, this group will inspire the next generation of leaders and together build a more inclusive, respectful society.

To kick off this effort we are hosting a symposium with leaders across sectors on what can be done to address the gap in inclusive leadership. Following the symposium, we will honor two leaders -- Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President of the United States, and Gracia Martore, President and Chief Executive Officer of Gannett -- for their fearless leadership in "uncovering talent" at the first BJKLI Awards Gala.

BJKLI has forged a multi-year research collaboration with Deloitte, and the Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion. The first ground-breaking study to be released in 2015 will explore creative ways in which organizations are leveraging the collective ideas, perspectives and input of their inclusive talent to grow the business. This research will compare and contrast the views of millennials, Board and C-Suite executives in the areas of diversity, inclusion, innovation, engagement and performance. Our aim is for the powerful insights revealed in this research to help us positively disrupt current practices and thoughtfully challenge global leadership to understand the need for improvement and to inspire action.

This type of change takes time, but my hope is that this initiative will elevate the conversation. Through it, thinking will evolve and the next generation of bold, visionary game changers will have the opportunity to achieve their maximum potential and contribute to building a better society for all.

Playing Bobby Riggs 41 years ago changed my life, and as I have learned over the years, changed the lives of millions of men and women as well. As long as I am able, I will step on to any court to fight for those viewed as less capable, less important, and less influential simply because of gender, race, age, disability or sexual orientation. BJKLI will continue to fight for equal rights and opportunities for all because it's a fight we all have a vested interest in winning.