I Was Told I Would Lose My Career If I Spoke Out

I Was Told I Would Lose My Career If I Spoke Out

Gretchen Carlson, 51

Journalist, Female Empowerment Advocate

Gretchen Carlson’s storm against sexual harassment in corporate America has been a welcome antithesis to the flow of news stories revealing predatory behavior from men in power. In 2017, Carlson famously won a $20M lawsuit against Fox CEO, Roger Ailes, helping to usher in today’s #metoo movement. The talented news anchor and former Miss America has now penned Be Fierce, her tell-all about the experience, and launched the Gretchen Carlson Leadership Initiative, which offers advocacy training to underserved women across the country. “So many more women have been given that gift of courage [which] I like to say is contagious,” says Carlson. “We are passing along a chain of inspiration one woman at a time.”

1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?

I’m proud I opened up the dialogue in my book, Be Fierce, for a national conversation about this issue of sexual harassment because it’s still happening with alarming frequency. Because of my story there are other stories being made public, and that is very gratifying. We need each other to support our efforts to be fierce.

2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?

There is an assumption that if a woman doesn’t immediately stand up and challenge a harasser, she isn’t credible. But there are a lot of reasons for the delay, including trauma, fear of being hated, and wanting to keep a job.

Photograph by Brigitte Lacombe

You’d be shocked at how many women are fired, demoted or blackballed in their industries after they report harassment. The consequences of taking action are very real, and they can be career-destroying.

3. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?

Reliving my experience in the book has been tough. I’m honest about how emotional it can get. When you’ve dedicated yourself for so long to a career that is so important to you, it’s heartbreaking to have it yanked away. I’ve had many moments of tears and self-doubt—long nights with little rest. I’ve agonized over how to protect my children. I’ve had to deal with a constant barrage of disgusting Tweets and Facebook posts. But I’ve also been heartened by the tremendous support I’ve received, and by knowing I could turn my experience into something positive for others.

4. What did you learn through your personal journey?

After my case became public, I heard from thousands of women who said they were so glad I did what I did. People would stop me on the street or in airport lounges, tearfully thanking me or telling me their own stories.

Many of them told me that seeing the way I stood up for myself gave them courage to speak up in their own situations. I was so overwhelmed by this response, and I felt I had an obligation to not just walk away from the battle.  I saw that I could use my profile to make a difference and to give others a voice.

5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?

We need each other to support our efforts to be fierce. But we also have to recognize that building courage is a process. It’s not like a light switch you turn on. We all have to work to develop our sense of self-esteem from the inside, and not be blindsided by external events.

You can be sexually harassed if you’re pretty or not pretty, if you’re strong or not strong, if you’re in advertising or trucking. You can be harassed if you’re wearing a short skirt or army fatigues or hospital scrubs. It’s in the culture. I think that women collectively, especially millennial women, need to take the bull by the horns on this issue, and suggest within companies to have focus groups and dialogues involving their male colleagues. We need to bring sexual harassment to the forefront. Also, collectively we need to have each other’s backs on this issue. If we do that and take it out of the shadows of secrecy, and it happens to a young woman, she will feel comfortable to say ‘hey remember that pact we made’ and then they go en masse [to report it]. If they do that, it’s over.

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