#SWAAYthenarrative

'Educated Women Don't Parade Around In Swimsuits'? Uh… Actually Yes, We Do.

3min read
Culture

Photo courtesy of Brittany Netta; Photography by Jessielyn Palumbo

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Is Miss America a walking contradiction to what our society expects of the modern young woman? Well, I am sure she is screaming a big fat yes from under her illustrious crown. Because it seems that some organizations cannot get behind the idea that an educated, respectable woman also has the ability to confidently strut her stuff in a swimsuit.


The Miss America Organization (MAO) is a "a non-profit scholarship organization led by women for women." Despite this fact, it seems that their female leadership has fallen for the antiquated notion of how a truly accomplished and intelligent woman should represent herself in today's society. In the #METOO era, have these female leaders progressed or regressed in their opinions when they equate a woman's intelligence to how modestly she dresses?

The answer to this question becomes painfully obvious when looking at recent events, specifically, MAO releasing a donor's misogynistic statement that "an educated woman does not parade around in a swimsuit." This donor, who gave money towards MAO scholarships (ironic, given the statement), was discussing why her parents would never allow her to compete in pageants. Although they have since apologized due to outrage among fans and alumni, this is a scene one's eyes cannot easily un-see.

And I say, regardless of the apology, "If you repeat it, you believe it." And that's exactly what MAO did.

For those who feel that this comment may have been taken out of context, I have two questions. Could this donor's motivation to fund these scholarships have anything to do with Miss America 2.0 eliminating the swimsuit portion of their competition only one year earlier? And, was The Miss America Organization, in sharing this statement, attempting to hail a righteous victory flag for what they believed to be the start of a successful new beginning for their now-swimsuit-less competition?

The Miss America Organization wants us to believe that the swimsuit portion of the competition was eliminated because a woman's outward physical appearance does not determine her intelligence in today's society. While that all sounds very progressive, it was simply not the motive that lead to this change. The truth about Miss America 2.0 is that they are really more concerned with updating their company's brand image in order to re-validate their place in a society that no longer values pageantry as it once did. But this resulted in little more than a pretentious façade.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was voted into office as the governor of California after years of competing in a thong on stage, but no one ever severely questioned his intelligence or ability to lead one of the nation's largest states. So why are we questioning the intellectual integrity of the women competing in Miss America today? That difference is a prime example of a double standard, and only proves we have a long way to go before true gender equality is achieved.

Consequently, I believe MAO completely missed the mark and made a huge mistake. They did not consider the broader message that their contestants send to women globally as they proudly strut in a swimsuit on national television. They forgot about the women who silently suffer from gender bias in the workplace and extreme oppression in many parts of the world who may be empowered by seeing a woman so boldly displaying herself with pride.

With that said, I'm not saying it's okay to disregard the standard dress code in the office, but women should be made to feel comfortable in embracing their sexuality and femininity in the appropriate settings. This should obviously include the Miss America stage, especially considering its rich history in their 100-year anniversary next fall.

Having competed in the Miss Universe Organization (MUO) for the past three years while working for one of the world's most admired technology companies and working towards achieving a Masters of Engineering, I can proudly say that the women who enter these competitions are some of the most disciplined, educated, and intelligent women around. Beauty and brains are not and never have been mutually exclusive.

The current Miss USA competed in a swimsuit portion of her competition, and she is also a Division One athlete as well as a practicing attorney. Miss America is an accomplished singer composer with a degree in music composition. Most of the young women who earn their state titles in MAO and MUO are highly educated, holding bachelors and master's degrees obtained by some of the most sought-after universities in the country.

Competing in MAO and MUO leave young women with wonderful professional skills, strict self-discipline, and an intense work ethic that have been a meaningful catalyst towards their careers. Furthermore, it can help elevate a woman's status nationwide to highlight many of her academic/career accomplishments through advocacy initiatives, philanthropy, and public appearances.

Instead of taking a progressive stance and believing in their contestant's intellectual fortitude to pave a path for the organization's future, MAO took the easy way out. They bowed to the antiquated notion that women's skin is inherently inappropriate. MAO holds a responsibility to celebrate how young women today choose to represent themselves —the true forward thinkers—whether they are prancing around in a swimsuit or dominating in a power suit.

4 Min Read
Business

Today, Companies Need to Retain Veteran Employees in Order to Survive and Thrive

In 2020, as the world turned on its axis, we all held on for dear life. Businesses, non-profits, government organizations, and entrepreneurs all braced for a new normal, not sure what it would mean, what would come next, or if we should be excited or terrified.

At the same time that everything is shifting, being put on hold, or expanding, companies have to evaluate current talent needs, empower their teams to work from home, discover new ways to care for clients from a distance, and navigate new levels of uncertainty in this unfamiliar environment. Through it all, civilians are being encouraged to lean into concepts like "resilience" and "courage" and "commitment," sometimes for the first time.

Let's contrast what the business community is going through this year with the common experience of the military. During basic training, officer candidate school, multiple deployments, combat, and reintegration, veterans become well-versed in resilience, courage, and commitment to survive and thrive in completing their mission. Today, veterans working in the civilian sector find the uncertainty, chaos, instability, and fear threading through companies eerily familiar.

These individuals do not leave their passion and sense of service behind when they separate or retire out of the military. Instead, typically veterans continue to find avenues to serve — in their teams, their companies, their communities.

More than ever before, today's employers who employ prior military should focus on why and how to retain them and leverage their talents, experience, and character traits to help lead the company — and the employees — to the other side of uncertainty.

What makes veterans valuable employees

Informed employers recognize that someone with a military background brings certain high-value assets into the civilian sector. Notably, veterans were taught, trained, and grounded in certain principles that make them uniquely valuable to their employers, particularly given the current business environment, including:

Leadership

It's been said that the United States Armed Forces is the greatest leadership institution in the world. The practices, beliefs, values, and dedication of those who serve make them tested leaders even outside of the military. Given the opportunity to lead, a veteran will step forward and assume the role. Asked to respect and support leadership, they comply with that position as well. Leadership is in the veteran's blood and for a company that seeks employees with the confidence and commitment to lead if called upon, a veteran is the ideal choice.

Commitment

The hope is that all employees are committed to their job and give 100% each day. For someone in the military, this is non-negotiable. The success of the mission, and the lives of everyone around them, depend on their commitment to stay the course and perform their job as trained. When the veteran employee takes on a project, it will be completed. When the veteran employee says there's an unsurmountable obstacle, it is so (not an excuse). When a veteran says they're "all in" on an initiative, they will see it through.

Strategy, planning, and improv

Every mission involves strategy, planning, and then improvisation from multiple individuals. On the battlefield, no plan works perfectly, and the service member's ability to flex, pivot, and adapt makes them valuable later, in the civilian sector. Imagine living in countries where you don't speak the language, working alongside troops who come from places you can't find on a map, and having to communicate what needs to get done to ensure everyone's safety. Veterans learned how to set goals, problem-solve challenges, and successfully get results.

Service

With an all-volunteer military for decades now, every man and woman who wore our nation's uniform raised their hand to do so. They chose to serve their country, their fellow Americans, and their leaders. These individuals do not leave their passion and sense of service behind when they separate or retire out of the military. Instead, typically veterans continue to find avenues to serve — in their teams, their companies, their communities.

When companies seek out leaders who will commit to a bigger mission, can think strategically and creatively, and will serve others, they look to veterans.

Best practices in retention of veteran talent

Retention starts at hiring. The experience set out in the interview stage provides insight about how it will be to work and grow within the team at the company. For employers hiring veterans, this is a critical step.

Veterans often tell me that they "look to work for a company that has a set of values I can ascribe to." The topic of values can serve as an opportunity for companies seeking to retain military talent.

The veteran employee may have had a few — or several — jobs since leaving the military. Or this may be their first civilian work experience. In any case, setting expectations and being clear about goals is vital. Remember, veterans are trained to complete a mission and a goal. When an employer clarifies the mission and shows how the veteran employee's role supports and fulfills that mission, the employee can more confidently and successfully complete their work.

Additionally, regular check-ins are helpful with veteran employees. These employees may not be as comfortable asking for help or revealing their weaknesses. When the employer checks in regularly, and shows genuine interest in their happiness, sense of productivity, and overall job satisfaction, the veteran employee learns to be more comfortable asking for help when needed.

The military is a values-driven culture. Service members are instilled with values of loyalty, integrity, service, duty, and honor, to name a few. When they transition out of the military, veterans still seek a commitment to values in their employers. Veterans often tell me that they "look to work for a company that has a set of values I can ascribe to." The topic of values can serve as an opportunity for companies seeking to retain military talent. Make it clear what your values are, how you live and act on those values, and how the veteran's job will promote and support those values. Even work that is less glamorous can be attractive to a veteran if they understand the greater purpose and mission.

Today, veterans working in the civilian sector find the uncertainty, chaos, instability, and fear threading through companies eerily familiar.

Finally, leveraging the strengths and goals of any employee is critical, and particularly so with veterans. If you have an employee who is passionate about service, show them ways to give back — through mentoring, community engagement, volunteerism, etc. If your veteran continues to seek leadership roles, find opportunities for them to contribute at higher levels, even informally. When your veteran employee offers to reframe the team's mission to gain better alignment across the sector, give them some runway to experiment. You have a workforce that is trained and passionate about and skilled in adapting and overcoming. Let them do what they do best.