The Washington Mystics star has teamed up with TIAA to retire inequality. As she looks to the future, she considers the progress that women in sports have made and the room for more growth.
Elena Delle Donne has done it all. Since she was taken second overall in the 2013 WNBA draft, her list of accolades has grown longer than a CVS receipt. The two-time MVP has been featured on six All-Star teams and taken home Olympic Gold.
As the league commemorated its 25th season last year, she took her rightful spot on the W25, honoring the league’s best 25 players in its history. In her own quest for greatness, Delle Donne is endlessly inspired by those who came before her.
The 32-year-old praises the women of the past who laid the groundwork for her to play on the biggest stage in women’s hoops, but she is cognizant of the progress that must still be made on the path to equity.
Boardroom caught up with the Washington Mystics star to discuss a whole range of topics, including her thoughts on the state of women’s sports, what lies ahead as she begins to think about the possibilities after basketball, and the importance of playing for more than just a paycheck.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
As Delle Donne heads into her ninth WNBA season, she cannot help but reflect on the upcoming celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX this June. The historic law struck down sex-based discrimination in schools across the United States, opening the door for the expansion of women’s scholastic sports as we know them today.
“Title IX has done so much for us women athletes,” Delle Donne said. “The goal of bringing equity to education [and] what it did for women’s sports was massive. It enabled me from a young age to think about being a collegiate athlete and also a professional athlete. It really paved the way for what my career would be.”
And the gold medalist has made the most of the opportunity.
Delle Donne attended the University of Delaware, where she was a Consensus First Team All-American and National Player of the Year candidate during her junior and senior seasons. She also emerged as the fifth-highest scorer all-time with 3,039 points.
In her four years, she inspired a whole generation of ballers with a new level of play.
In the 2013 draft, she was taken second by the Chicago Sky, where she played for four seasons. Her years in the W have been as prolific — if not more — as her college years. She secured one of the league’s coveted supermax contracts with the Mystics after helping lead the franchise to its first-ever WNBA title in 2019.
Despite all of her personal success and the myriad opportunities that she’s had along the way, Delle Donne is quick to point out: “Unfortunately, there’s still a ways to go.”
One of the clearest examples in recent history grabbed national attention when Oregon’s Sedona Prince exposed inequality at the 2021 NCAA tournament.
“I wasn’t shocked because I’ve lived it and played through it and seen it, but I was so proud of our young athletes for spotlighting this and showing how ridiculous this is,” she recalled. “The great thing is that when you do things like this, there’s generally a response, and I hope we will never see the inequalities like that ever again because of her bravery to stand up and to post it.”
While the reward came in the form of nationwide attention, the risk was substantial.
Delle Donne pointed out that Prince had to put her own career on the line to expose the NCAA: “A lot of times, you can be afraid to challenge a big institution like the NCAA. I feel like something might go wrong for you or your team or you could receive sanctions.”
Opportunities to Invest
In recent years, Delle Donne has begun building her business acumen with the same determination as her basketball career.
Though the inequalities she witnessed in sports never really surprised her, she was shocked to learn that women traditionally retire with 30% less income than men. Recently, she has teamed up with TIAA to “inspire, educate, and challenge” the public to address the gap with its #RetireInequality campaign.
“I wasn’t aware of that and I’m in a world where I’m pretty aware of the inequalities that we see between men and women, in sports especially.”
On her teams, Delle Donne works with the next generation of players. And though they consult her on everything from how to drive the paint to how to recover from injury, she noted that these days, she also is offering more advice around how to get their finances in order. Specifically, she encourages the younger players to “find ways to get equity instead of just a paycheck.”
“That was something that I had to learn early on. I was way more into working with brands that I would just get a paycheck on the way, and now I’m working towards a future. I look for opportunities where I can get equity and grow. Things that will take me past my playing career.”
For her, she sees the preparation for the future similar to the way she sees any successful team that she’s played with: “You have to surround yourself with really great people to help you as your maneuvering so many new things, especially when you get into your professional career.” Delle Donne works with her agent and agency, as well as a financial advisor.
But she cited her greatest teammate as her wife, Amanda Clifton. The two launched the woodworking business Deldon Designs. Together, they are thinking about the long-term.
“At this stage, I’m looking for brands that are interested in lifetime partnerships that will extend beyond my playing career,” Delle Donne said when asked how she identifies new brands with which to partner. “Sometimes, they come to me. Sometimes, I will have a product I love, so I will get my team to approach the brand. Right now, something that we’re involved in that’s early in the works is something that helps with periods. … When you believe in the brand, and you believe in the company — it’s something I’m willing to go on the ride with.”
The prospect of a secure future motivates all of Delle Donne’s decisions. While Delle Donne has her eyes on lifting the WNBA’s championship trophy alongside her teammates this year, she continues to fight for equity — both on the court and in the boardroom.