Gretchen Carlson defends changes to Miss America pageant: We need to be 'inclusive'
© Greg Nash

Gretchen Carlson defended the changes to the Miss America competition on Monday, saying they were intended to make the event more "inclusive."

"You know, the reality is that we used to have 85,000 young women who came into our local systems every year and ultimately, one person became Miss America. And now in 2018, that number has dwindled to 4,000," Carlson, the chairwoman of the board of directors for the Miss America Organization and a former Fox News anchor, said on Monday to The Hill.

"We need to figure out a way to be more inclusive. That's right. And ... so women know that this organization is also for them," she said.

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The pageant is making a number of changes, most prominently dropping the swimsuit competition and making changes to the evening gown event, deciding not to judge contestants on their physical appearance.

Carlson has said those changes were in part due to the "Me Too" movement. Carlson herself left Fox News in 2016 and the network reached a settlement with her over sexual harassment allegations.

But the changes to the pageant have attracted criticism. Some members of the organization have called for Carlson to step down and half of the nine-person board has left.

Carlson said the criticism was not fair to the other board members.

"I'm used to the, to the incoming fire, as I said ... it's not fair to the other board members, because some of them are not used to it. And they're just volunteering their time as am I," she told The Hill.

And she said the focus should be on the contestants.

"Which is what our mission is, it’s about the young women, looking forward," she said.

Carlson was in Washington on Monday to participate in an event for the March of Dimes.

She joined Stacey D. Stewart, president of the March of Dimes, to speak to 20 women who were chosen to participate in the March of Dimes’s MOMentum initiative and the Gretchen Carlson Advocacy Fellowship. The women received advocacy training to help in the group's mission of promoting better care for moms and babies.

“One woman can make a difference, but together we rock the work,” Carlson said of the joint initiative.

The 20 women participating in the event were selected from more than 200 applicants and represent diverse backgrounds and professions.

They will meet with lawmakers on Tuesday to advocate for a number of issues, in particular the PREEMIE Reauthorization Act, which will fund research into the rising number of premature births and infant mortality.

“I think it’s really important to know that women’s health is a bipartisan issue. So one of my great hopes is that this organization will figure out a way to find that compromise between this hyper partisan era that we live in right now. It may be difficult, but women never back down from a challenge” Carlson told The Hill. “I have great faith in the group of women to advocate for more women to run for office, but also to have a voice.”