Moms Need Not Apply

by Julie Graber | on 5 Dec 2019

As reported in Fortune’s Broadsheet and the New York Times, Veronika Didusenko was crowned Miss Ukraine in 2018 but lost the title four days later when the Miss World organization realized that she in fact was a divorcee with a son. Didusenko is suing Miss World, saying that the entry requirements — that contestants be unmarried and childless — are a form of discrimination. As Didusenko described the situation:

"“Imagine you are Serena Williams going to play in Wimbledon, when suddenly you realize that the entry criteria bans moms from taking part in the games.”

Putting aside the whole conversation re: the continued existence of beauty pageants (or whatever they call themselves these days), I thought her quote was an apt description of a scenario that plays out every day around the world. When it comes to top leadership, moms need not apply.

The head of the Miss Ukraine committee attempted to explain the decision (and childless requirement), noting that the hectic schedule of the winner could “negatively affect the upbringing of a small child who will be deprived of his mother’s love.” The Miss World organization added that contestants must be “free and able to commit, often at short notice, to travel globally in support of the sick and disadvantaged which may be for long periods of time, often to areas devastated by natural disasters.”

It takes no imagination to know that these same arguments being made every day in organizations around the world as individuals are tapped for their next leadership role. Consciously or unconsciously, our assumptions about moms undoubtedly keep too many Serena Williamses from advancing through the pipeline to the top, where frankly, we need them. And those assumptions are sometimes made even before a spouse or child enter the picture.

I know one thing - the world cannot survive if the only people who can be leaders are men and women who aren’t moms.* And if we’re going to realize my dream of a world where half of our leaders are women, we’re going to need to make room for moms at the table.

*Or individuals who are moms however they identify their gender.

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