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How 2021 became a turning point for Olympic moms

July 19, 2021, 1:03 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Female athletes have tested positive for COVID-19 in Tokyo, The Wing is back—with some changes, and Olympic moms are publicly embracing motherhood. Have a meaningful Monday!

– ‘It’s a new era.’ At long last—after a year postponement, sexist scandals, and on-going COVID scares (more on that below)—the Tokyo Olympics will kick off this Friday. A special subset of athletes will be among the competitors this year: moms. 

Of course, so long as the Games have allowed women to compete—since 1900—mothers have participated in the events. What’s noticeably different this cycle is that women don’t have to hide the fact that at some point in the past they’ve given birth; in fact, they feel free to fully embrace it.

Olympic moms are the subject of this fascinating package from the Washington Post, which is well worth your time.

What really struck me is how much has changed for Olympic mothers in so little time.

Beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings, who competed in her first Games in 2000 and narrowly missed Tokyo this year, told the Post that when she turned pro women faced a stark choice: “Either put off having babies or wait until you’re done competing. When I started, women were mostly waiting.”

Russian artistic swimmer and five-time Olympic champ Svetlana Romashina said in April that training kept her from seeing her daughter more than twice a month after she was born in 2017.

So what’s changed since then?

A major turning point was the advocacy of Allyson Felix, Kara Goucher, and Alysia Montaño who in 2019 called out Nike for cutting their sponsorship compensation after they became pregnant and gave birth. Their outspokenness forced Nike to change its policy to not penalize athletes during their pregnancy and the 10 months after.

Convincing sponsors that an athlete’s pregnancy was not a liability, the Post says, was a watershed moment.

“Thankfully, Allyson Felix, Kara Goucher and Alysia Montaño talked about their stories, because it changed the conversation and made things possible for me,” says U.S. marathoner Aliphine Tuliamuk.

Possible—but not perfect. For months, Olympic organizers told Tuliamuk that she couldn’t bring her 7-month-old daughter to Tokyo because of COVID restrictions, even though she was breastfeeding and Tuliamuk had asked for an exemption. She contemplated not going to Tokyo at all. Then in June, organizers told her that her daughter Zoe and other nursing babies would be permitted.

“Now,” she told the Post, “other athletes will be able to look at my story and say if she did it, I can do it, too. It’s a new era.”

Claire Zillman
claire.zillman@fortune.com
@clairezillman

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Claire Zillman.

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Sidelined. This morning, Olympic officials confirmed a member of the U.S. women's gymnastics teams has tested positive for COVID. At the time of writing, she had not been identified but is younger than 19, which rules out superstar Simone Biles. Plus, U.S. tennis star Coco Gauff will sit out the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for COVID-19. The 17-year-old was supposed to lead the U.S.'s 12-person tennis squad to the first Games in a quarter century to not feature a Williams sister.

- 'Take this crap off.' Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) on Sunday unloaded on social media, arguing that the spread of vaccine disinformation adds urgency to her effort to change liability standards for what's published on such platforms. “There’s absolutely no reason they shouldn’t be able to monitor this better and take this crap off of their platforms,” she told CNN’s State of the Union. CNN

- Fossil fuel future. Norway Prime Minister Erna Solberg is running for an unprecedented third term this September, and the country's fossil fuel industry is a hot topic in the race. Solberg has rejected calls from the International Energy Agency to halt all new petroleum projects in the country. “There is a big change going on, and that will happen anyway. The question is just how fast it will go. We don’t intend to speed it up politically," she said. Financial Times

- A 'fraternity' culture. A California judge ruled that Pimco must face a lawsuit filed last year by two employees who accuse the firm of operating a 'fraternity' culture that favors white men and undervalues women. The female plaintiffs claim they faced discrimination based on their gender and were demoted after raising concerns about bias and harassment. A Pimco spokesperson declined to comment for this story: Bloomberg

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: President Joe Biden has tapped Jane Hartley, a Democratic fundraiser and former France envoy, to be U.S. ambassador to the U.K. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Feel-good story. Many members of the Japanese public are unhappy the Tokyo Olympics are going forward, with COVID cases rising and vaccinations still low. But one source of enthusiasm for the Games is Rikako Ikei, a swimmer who survived cancer in 2019 and qualified for the Olympics only because they were postponed. Financial Times

- Wingman. Co-working space The Wing is working to woo remote workers back after the pandemic and allegations of a racist and toxic work environment. Competition is fierce, now that the pandemic has shifted workers' relationship with the office, and The Wing is rolling out small changes—free tote bags, scented candles—and bigger ones—a diverse advisory board and more male members. New York Times

- Best of the best. Zillow was the biggest mover on Fortune's new Best Workplaces for Millennials list, hopping 42 spots to No. 24. One reason for its high rank on the list (which is based on anonymous survey data from employees) is its focus on gender equity. The online real estate marketplace reviews its job postings for gender-neutral language and aligns job levels against the broader marketplace to ensure appropriate compensation ranges. Fortune

- Too few cases. The #MeToo movement was supposed to be a turning point for victims of sexual assault, and while it raised awareness about the prevalence of such abuse, outcomes for women are little changed, at least in New York. This investigation reveals that most NYC prosecutors' offices rejected a larger share of sex crime cases in 2019 than a decade earlier: New York Times

ON MY RADAR

How a ban on a swim cap galvanized Black swimmers New York Times

Let’s break the silence around IVF in workplaces Financial Times

Commentary: Let’s close the huge gender gap in federal contracts Fortune

PARTING WORDS

"Getting people together, and understanding their differences to move things forward is something...I’ve always been passionate about. It’s about finding similarities where the obvious is different."

-Lila Ibrahim, the first COO of A.I. company DeepMind

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