Serena Williams opens up exclusively to PEOPLE about all things parenthood and her new PSA for The Allstate Foundation Purple Purse program

By Jen Juneau and Lindsay Kimble
August 26, 2019 03:50 PM
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Serena Williams couldn’t be more “proud” of her husband Alexis Ohanian‘s vocal support of parental leave.

Ohanian recently took a stance against the stigma associated with men taking time off from work to care for their newborn children, in an essay for The New York Times titled, “Paternity Leave Was Crucial After the Birth of My Child, and Every Father Deserves It.”

Speaking with PEOPLE in an exclusive interview, Williams — who stars in a new PSA for The Allstate Foundation Purple Purse program, which highlights the seriousness of financial abuse — praises the Reddit co-founder “for speaking out, not only on behalf of women but of men as well.”

“That’s so important. … I’m telling you, it’s so hard to be a mom,” says the tennis star, 37. “I have my own job and I make my own schedule, but even then I still have commitments, and I can’t imagine moms that get two weeks off and have to go back to work.”

“It’s impossible. I couldn’t have done it. I literally couldn’t have done it,” adds Williams, who shares 23-month-old daughter Alexis Olympia with Ohanian, 36. “[Parental leave is] so important for both parents.”

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Serena Williams
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Williams says motherhood “makes it just so important to have a really good support system,” and she wants “to encourage other women to know that if they don’t have that, there’s people out there, like what I’m doing with Allstate and Purple Purse, that can help them and that can support them.”

“It’s hard,” the athlete continues. “You’re in a marriage, you’re in a relationship, you have a kid. It’s not easy to just pick up and walk away. It’s not, and I know that now, and I feel like [that’s] even more reason that I can speak to it.”

“I know very well this could be [Olympia] one day, so I definitely want to let her know that we can talk about things like this right now, today, even though she’s not even 2 yet,” Williams continues of her Allstate initiative. “And just let her know if she’s ever in a relationship [so] she knows ahead of time, ‘Oh, that’s a red flag.’ ”

Serena Williams and daughter Olympia
Serena Williams/Instagram

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Monday is Women’s Equality Day in the United States. And as Williams tells PEOPLE, “supporting women’s rights has always been a passion of mine” — a cause that goes hand-in-hand with her Purple Purse partnership.

“This is something I think is always going to be around, unfortunately, domestic abuse and financial abuse,” she says. “But my hope is that we can encourage the public to learn the signs of financial abuse and start conversations to help millions who are trapped.”

“We just need to make an awareness and have conversations, and let people know that they’re going to have help. There’s a way that we can help them,” Williams adds. “Purple Purse and Allstate, they do this really cool program that actually helps women that may be in a situation.”