Gretchen Carlson breaks barriers and blazes trails

The night before Gretchen Carlson quit her job as a Fox News TV host in 2016, she told her 11- and 13-year old children what was about to happen. 

Up until then, they had no idea their mother’s life had been turned upside down by sexual harassment.

"My career was going to be ended for me, and it wouldn’t be my choice,” said Carlson, a Minnesota native and an Anoka High School graduate.

“It was just a small circle of people that were aware of what I had been going through and what I was about to do,” she added.

Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, an outspoken advocate for women who face sexual harassment in the workplace, has become one of the leaders of the “#MeToo” movement. Carlson settled with Fox for $20 million in 2016 after suing former chairman Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. (Photo courtesy of Gretchen Carlson) 

The next day, she went public with her story, alleging in a lawsuit that Fox chairman and CEO Roger Ailes had sexually harassed her. She had no idea the tidal wave she was helping unleash. 

Since then, Carlson has played a leading role in the “#MeToo” movement and been a leading voice in the push to end workplace harassment. She’s written a book on ending workplace harassment and started her own leadership training to empower victims.

“I could never have predicted we would be in this tsunami right now when I decided to come forward with my story, and I feel like giving the gift of courage is contagious and we see it happening one woman at a time,” Carlson said. “Collectively we are realizing we have this incredibly strong voice when we stand together and say something. So sometimes it takes one or two people to start the wave, but look at how powerful we are when we start saying ‘me too.’”

Carlson and Fox settled for $20 million in September 2016. Ailes resigned as Fox chairman and CEO before passing away last year.

In a January interview, Carlson said society has not yet made enough progress in dealing with sexual harassment.

“I really feel like you can’t put the genie back in the bottle now,” Carlson said. “There are so many stories and revelations that the American public is really just fed up with it, and I think that is why they keep talking about it months and months after. 

“I may have started the motion but I hope it trickles down to communities and people feel comfortable speaking out.” 

Since Carlson came forward, other women have come forward with their stories of sexual harassment, too, bringing down the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly and Roy Moore.She was shocked by the number of people who spoke up after her book, “Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back,” was published in 2017.

“I heard from tons of people after my book ‘Be Fierce’ came out, and I hope that they all will get justice -- the woman who is being harassed at McDonald’s to the teacher or a member of the military or a lawyer,” Carlson said.

Like many others, Carlson can’t share the details of her sexual harassment story because she signed an arbitration agreement as part of her Fox contract, which took away her right to go to court. Filing a claim under arbitration often results in a firing or demotion, Carlson said. 

“It is another way to keep women quiet,” she said. “Often times what happens is the perpetrator gets to keep working because no one ever knows that cases have come up about that person.”

That’s why people like O’Reilly were able to keep their jobs for years despite numerous allegations. That’s also why Carlson has taken her fight to Capitol Hill. 

In December, Carlson helped convince lawmakers to introduce a bipartisan bill in both the U.S. House and the Senate that would remove forced arbitration clauses in employee agreements.

“I think what was so important to me was that it was bipartisan because this issue is apolitical,” Carlson said. “When someone decides to harass you they don’t ask, ‘What political party are you in?’”

Some companies, such as Microsoft, have stopped using forced arbitration clauses in sexual harassment cases. Carlson hopes other companies will follow in its footsteps. 

Carlson also started the Gift of Courage Fund, which helps girls and young women recognize their potential, and created a partnership with the All in Together campaign to create the Gretchen Carlson Leadership Initiative.

“The All in Together campaign helps women have a voice in their lives and my job is to work with Gretchen to support these women. I love seeing women inspired to tell their stories and see the differences the campaign is making in so many people’s lives,” said Simone Leiro, the director of programming and partnerships for All in Together.

The leadership initiative is a nine-city tour that brings civic leadership and advocacy training to underserved women across the country. It’s focused on empowering women who have experienced gender-based violence,discrimination or harassment. The workshops are free because Carlson wanted to help women who didn’t have the resources she had. 

“I thought it was really important because how do you help the single mom who is working two jobs and also being sexually harassed?” Carlson said. “This was a tough question for me because I really didn’t have an answer.”

One of her biggest surprises was the number of men who thanked her for coming forward, she said. She realized most men want safe work environments for their female colleagues. 

“As long as we have men mainly running Fortune 500 companies, then we need men to help us,” Carlson said. “We need men to hire more of us, and support us and stop enabling this kind of behavior in the workplace and stop being bystanders.

“I really feel that the final part of the equation is men saying, ‘Enough is enough,’ and I really feel like that will bring us together cohesively and make a change.”

CARLSON’S CAREER

Gretchen Carlson worked for Fox News for more than a decade, most recently hosting “The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson” on Fox News for three years. Prior to that, she co-hosted the No. 1-rated cable morning news show “Fox and Friends" for more than seven years. 

Carlson started her television career in Richmond, Virginia, as a political reporter, and later served as an anchor and reporter in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Dallas. She moved to the national scene as the co-host of “The Saturday Early Show.”

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