Closing The Gap

12-time gold medalist Allyson Felix on the negotiating advice she wishes she knew at the start of her career

Allyson Felix of the United States reacts after setting a new world record in the 4x400 Metres Mixed Relay during day three of 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 at Khalifa International Stadium on September 29, 2019 in Doha, Qatar.
Patrick Smith | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

Allyson Felix is a mom, businesswoman and Olympic sprinter who won her 12th gold medal at a track-and-field world championship last month.

Her win, which came just 10 months after giving birth to her daughter Camryn, broke Usain Bolt's record for the most track-and-field gold medals at a world championship.

Though the 33-year-old has seen a lot of success in her career, she says there is one piece of advice she wishes she knew as a young athlete who was turning pro. "I look back at when I did my first deal at 17 to where I am now," she told CNBC Make It at a recent event for personal finance company SoFi, "and I wish I was being more present in those conversations and had more knowledge about what was going on in the negotiation process."

Allyson Felix of the United States competes in the 4x400 Metres Mixed Relay during day three of 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 at Khalifa International Stadium on September 29, 2019 in Doha, Qatar.
Maja Hitij | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

Like many athletes, Felix said she relied solely on her agent at the start of her career to negotiate all of her business deals. "You know, you're coming in either straight from college or even younger than that, and you don't have experience in this," she said. "So, you don't know what to ask for. A lot of times I think we're just grateful to get offered something."

But being grateful for any deal that comes your way can be problematic, she said, especially when you don't know the details of the contract. Earlier this year, Felix penned an op-ed for The New York Times where she opened up about her experience with renegotiating her contract with Nike as a pregnant athlete.

Despite being one of the most decorated athletes in history, Felix said Nike wanted to pay her 70% less than before, and they didn't want to offer her maternity protection during the months following her child's birth. "I asked Nike to contractually guarantee that I wouldn't be punished if I didn't perform at my best in the months surrounding childbirth," she wrote. "I wanted to set a new standard. If I, one of Nike's most widely marketed athletes, couldn't secure these protections, who could?"

After facing a lot of backlash for its policies surrounding female athletes, Nike later announced that it was updating its contracts to protect its pregnant clients more. Under the new terms, the sportswear brand said that no performance-related reductions could take place for an 18-month period, starting eight months prior to a woman's due date.

Nike did not immediately respond to Make It's request for comment.

Felix, who signed a new sponsorship deal with Athleta in July, said her experience with Nike taught her that you have to be ready to negotiate for more than just money.

"I'm excited about this new partnership deal, and it's different," she told the crowd at SoFi's "Get That Raise" event. "I had been with Nike for so long, and I really don't think they thought I would leave the brand. But, I realized there are things that are more valuable than money."

College and career coach Kat Cohen agrees with Felix and explained that even if you aren't an athlete, you should still consider more than just money when negotiating with an employer.

"You should look at compensation holistically," she told CNBC Make It. "This means reviewing the retirement savings, paid time off, commuter benefits and whatever other benefits are offered."

Cohen added that in some cases, such as with tuition reimbursement, your benefits can actually help to cut down your monthly payments on a bill. In this situation, she said, it should not be a deal breaker if a company can't increase your pay.

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