While we were all gearing up for the holiday season in mid-December, there was an email scandal brewing that was destined to change the future of one of America's most treasured television spectacles, forever.
On the 21st of the month, The Huffington Post broke a story of salacious emails from the upper echelons of management in the Miss America pageant. The emails paint a bleak view of the pageant's hierarchy - a male-dominated, crude system grounded in what can only be described as the purest form of "bro-culture," and chaired by Sam Haskell.
It's nothing we haven't seen before. From tech, to Hollywood and beyond, every industry has been plagued by this behavior, 2017 just happened to become the year it was exposed.
In the wake of the story, Haskell and other executives implicated by the emails quickly resigned, while former Miss Americas Gretchen Carlson, Mallory Hagan and Kate Shindle put together a petition with a view to restructuring the entire board behind the organization. They succeeded, and what we have now is Miss America 2.0.
Leading the new phase of the pageants's history is Carlson as Chairwoman, with three other titleholders, Heather French Henry, Laura Kaeppeler Fleiss, and Kate Shindle, gaining seats as well. The news has been greeted with applause across the board, with many predicting Carlson's resounding accomplishments for female empowerment will have a massive impact on the future of the pageant.
Below we've rounded up why we think her appointment as Chair is significant, both literally and symbolically.
“In the end, we all want a strong, relevant Miss America and we appreciate the existing board taking the steps necessary to quickly begin stabilizing the organization for the future."
1. A win for women
It was an enormous year, for women, for the workplace, for Carlson herself who released her second book, Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back. But wins like this are few and far between. Yes, there have been breakthroughs and those who would uphold the Mad Men era of misogyny today are slowly being weeded out, but a shift of this proportion bears a resounding significance for women everywhere.
Regardless of whether Carlson was coming in to chair Apple, Walmart or Uber, the symbolism of the shift in leadership is enormous in and of itself. Haskell, a man who evidently cared so little for those who worked for him and competed in his competition has endured a very republic removal from his seat, and Carlson, a woman who has displayed on countless occasion her respect and admiration for women and fellow contestants, has taken the role.
Whether you're a fan of pageantry or not, it's hard not to see how positive an influence this new dynamic in leadership will bear on the competition itself, and the pageantry industry worldwide.
2. Stability for Miss America at a time of tremendous turmoil
Carlson is perhaps the wisest and most conscientious pick for an incoming chair for any organization that has gone through the ringer in recent months for similar scandals.
Her championing of female causes, from her women's leadership initiative, to public outreach following the Roger Ailes scandal, makes her a terrific candidate given the climate we find ourselves in.
Turning the pageant's image around after the enormity of an email scandal such as this won't be easy. However, when you've got the approval rating of a woman who veritably began the crusade against workplace sexual harassment, there's a great probability that the organization's reputation won't remain in the gutter too long.
Gretchen Carlson. Photo courtesy of Variety
3. Changing the pageantry narrative
It's no secret that pageants themselves are contentious subjects. At its most basic level, participants are objectified, scrutinized and judged based on their physical appearance, and for ultra-feminists, this is particularly problematic.
Former Miss America Nina Davuluri notes, however, that while these are the aspects of the competition that might get the most attention, they're not nearly the most important. "I chose to enter this organization because of the values and integrity associated with the title and organization," the 2014 titleholder told SWAAY. "Empowering women through service and scholarship has always been at the forefront, and we must continue to uphold those values. Yes, Miss America is relevant. Yes, our voices are being heard. And yes, we're here to stay."
With four former titleholders on the Board who are evidently in an open dialogue with many of the others former participants out there, this indomitable network are sure to be the force for change the pageant needs right now to remain relevant and embrace a different approach going forward.
"It's unrealistic, and frankly outrageous, to think that judging women walk in swimsuits and heels is an all-encompassing approach to understanding an individual's overall health and/or lifestyle."-Nina Davuluri. Photo courtesy of Parade
4. A lesson for the masses
Justice really does taste so sweet when it's wearing heels and a fresh blowout.
Before Weinstein, Ailes, O'Reilly, Trump, there was little to no chatter about this kind of shift in power - in fact, it was almost unfathomable. A man, making $500K a year, on top of this long-held institution, would have been near untouchable, regardless of the scandal. The times, however, have well and truly changed.
The public fall from grace of the innumerable men embroiled in similar scandals will serve as cautionary tales for those in the future who might deign to treat women as they subservients, but this tale, and the rise to prominence of these women, will serve as an emphatic lesson. Do not bite the hand that feeds you.
For over a hundred years these women have been the focal points of this pageant and, gone unrecognised, they have become a force that has overhauled the board and plans to drastically change the very premise of the competition.
"As a former Miss America I feel positive & optimistic about the change of leadership at the organization. It's important to note that we also democratically elected among ourselves the four women who we felt could help usher (us) through this challenging transition: Gretchen Carlson as Chair, along with Heather French Henry, Laura Kaeppeler Fleiss, and Kate Shindle."
- Nina Davuluri
5. No better woman for the job
As Davuluri mentions above, Carlson was elected by the ladies of the organization to take charge and given our experience with her, we have no doubt as to why. Above all, she is dedicated to the cause of female empowerment with a ferocity that is unrivaled. Her passion for the cause in the aftermath of her suit against then-Fox CEO Roger Ailes undoubtedly served as the straw that broke the camel's back in the sexual harassment scandals that were to follow. Her book, Be Fierce, is a veritable guide for women to find strength enough to emerge from these difficult situations. She is a mouthpiece for the movement that has swept the nation and the world, and indicted a response never before seen.
"Gretchen has always been a woman I've admired and viewed as a role model for many years even before competing in the Miss America Organization--she is a true testament of our values," says Davuluri.
Once the dust settles and she and her fellow Miss Americas get to work on the reinvention of the pageant, we can only imagine what they will achieve.
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.