“When I realised that the career I had killed myself for was being taken away from me and it was not my choice, I thought to myself: if I don’t do this, who will?”
These are the words of former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, who tells Kate Mills in the latest episode of The Leadership Lessons, that it took all the courage she had to make a sexual harassment complaint against Roger Ailes, the then-CEO and chairman of Fox News in 2016.
“I always say that courage is not like coming in to a room and turning on a light switch,” Carlson explains in the podcast.
“Courage is something that takes a tremendous amount of time to build up in order to finally take that leap.”
It was this courage from Carlson, and her decision to file a lawsuit against Ailes, that saw her story and experiences become public in the United States, and ultimately inspire more women to come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace.
“Nobody else had jumped off the cliff yet there, at least not publicly, and so I jumped. With no safety net and no idea what the hell was to going to happen me the next minute, the next hour, the next day, the next week,” Carlson said.
“It was my belief that when they fired me that if I didn’t finally stand up and say, “here I am” that nobody else might do that.
She says it turned out to be one of the best things she could have done, given how it helped inspire more women to come forward.
“I thought I was just going to be sitting in my home office every day crying my eyes out because I didn’t have my career anymore.”
Carlson’s experience taking on perhaps the most powerful man in television news in the United States has become a cultural touchstone in recent years, and is the subject of a mini-series called The Loudest Voice, and the film Bombshell, where Carlson’s character is played by Nicole Kidman.
Carlson was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement with Fox News as part of her settlement, which means she is unable to talk about whether the content of the film and television series is an accurate depiction of her time at Fox News.
“Because of the incredibly stringent non-disclosure agreement that I had to sign with Fox News, I cannot even tell you if they are accurate or not. That is what’s so crazy about this,” she said.
“It’s actually the genesis of my organisation Lift Our Voices, because I’d love to be able to tell my story – the whole truth, some day. I was at Fox almost eleven years, there’s a lot to tell.”
Carlson, alongside Julie Roginsky and Diana Falzone, has launched Lift Our Voices, a non-profit organisation advocating for the end of mandatory non-disclosure agreements, confidentiality provisions and forced arbitration clauses that prevent employees from disclosing sexual harassment in the workplace.
“But why I’m doing this fight is not necessarily so Gretchen Carlson can tell all of her truths, but so that the millions of other women and men in this world, who’ve been silenced, can one day tell their truths,” she shares in the podcast.
“The people who don’t have the national platform and the resources that I have. That’s why I’m doing all this work, because it’s a pervasive epidemic of silencing people.”
In September 2016, when Carlson settled her lawsuit with Fox News for a reported $20 million, she also had the media company issue a public apology.
“I take the high road on this because I can’t talk about it and unless some miracle happens and Fox decides to let me out of the NDA, I’ll never be able to talk about it,” she said.
“The one great thing though, I would say to you, is that my lawyers and I were smart enough in my settlement agreement to number one, get a public apology which never happens, and number two, to give me the opportunity to be able to talk about this issue and I have taken full advantage of that to try and make workplaces safer.”
In 2017, Carlson was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, and she’s continued to work hard to make workplaces both in the US and around the world, safer for women.
She currently has bipartisan supported legislation on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C that would void forced arbitration clauses that prevent employees coming forward with sexual harassment claims.
“I’m very optimistic with the new administration now here in the United States that I’m actually going to accomplish this. It will be a gamechanger in the workplace, in fact, I will see it as the greatest achievement in my life – other than my two children – if I can make this happen.”
“It will be like changing the landscape of the American workplace overnight.
“Fixing this issue is a tangled web but I look into the eyes of my children and I realise that my work is going to change it for them. That is what keeps me going.”
The Leadership Lessons podcast series, hosted by Kate Mills, is a set of interviews with brilliant female leaders across industries, sharing their perspective on the critical decade ahead.
The Leadership Lessons is supported by Salesforce.