Since filing a bombshell sexual harassment lawsuit last year against former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, Carlson said she has been contacted by tens of thousands of women — and a few men, too — from all walks of life who still live with sexual harassment, even rape, every single day.
She launched into the story of a radio DJ who approached her boss to ask for a promotion and was told to “get up on the desk and spread ’em.”
It is their stories she wants in the public eye, she said.
“All these women are saying me too, me too, me too,” she said. “My greatest hope is that [a sense of empowerment] actually starts to filter down into all the professions of women that I’ve heard from. Because it’s pervasive across all socioeconomic lines. It’s from waitresses to Wall Street bankers to lawyers to teachers to members of our military to flight attendants.”
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She used a portion of her 14-minute talk to give a voice to some of those women, their names populating a screen behind her. There was the flight attendant who was forced to watch porn at a staff meeting and the Army veteran who was taunted with dollar bills as if she was a stripper.
She even took a swipe at President Trump, remarking at a picture of the two of them together decades ago when he was a wealthy businessman and she was Miss America. Who would have thought they’d be where they are today, Carlson mused. She, speaking out against sexual harassment in the workplace, “he, president of the United States in spite of it.”
But Carlson didn’t dwell on what has been; she quickly shifted her focus to what should be.
“Let’s hire back all those women whose careers were lost because of some random jerk,” Carlson said. “We will stand up and speak up and have our voices heard. We will be the women we were meant to be.”
During the TED speech, she talked about the importance of changing laws at the federal level to stop the pervasiveness of secret arbitration clauses in employment contracts that keep women silent. She implored victims of sexual harassment to speak out and witnesses to stand alongside them.
She said her boss raped her in a bank vault. Her sexual harassment case would make legal history.
In an interview at the Roosevelt before her speech, when she wasn’t confined by a time limit, Carlson delved into how she wants women to be prepared for what happens after they stand up to their accusers, the consequences of which can range from indifference to being fired to being blacklisted from their industries.
“It’s not fun to come forward. There’s nothing rewarding about being demeaned or taken down,” she said. “Women don’t do this for fame or money or because it’s fun.”
First, she said, talk to a lawyer before you do anything else.
“HR is not always the best place to go to report these incidents,” she said. “You have to keep in mind who writes the paychecks.”
Second, she said, “document, document, document what’s happening to you.” Keep a journal and take it home with you every night. Send yourself copies of emails to an outside email.
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“A lot of the women that reached out to me, they had been documenting, and then when they got fired when they had the courage to come forward, they couldn’t go back to their office and so they could never get their stuff,” she said.
And last, tell someone.
“Even though it’s really tough, you’ve got to tell at least two trusted colleagues,” she said. “Because as long we’re still in this ‘he said she said’ environment that is changing but still exists, you have to have two people who will say, ‘Yeah, she told me about this’ or ‘Yeah, I saw it.’ ”
Carlson also has a message for the men who stand idly by and let the harassment happen, or even laugh along with it: They can make it stop.
“If we’re really going to change the dynamic in the workplace, we need men to stop being enablers and bystanders and come forward,” she said. “The burden of fixing this problem should not only be on the shoulders of women because it’s actually really a men’s issue, not a women’s issue.”
It’s a lesson Carlson is working hard to instill in her 12-year-old son. While she preaches hard work, self respect and dogged determination to both him and her 14-year-old daughter, she said, the pressure cooker of parenting these days really intensifies when it comes to raising the next generation of men.
“I think it’s actually more important how we raise our sons because they’re watching and listening and hearing everything,” she said. “It’s important not to give these subtle clues that certain things are off limits because of your gender. And the same goes for respect.”
Carlson spoke about her children during her TED talk, saying they were “paramount in my decision-making about whether I would come forward.”
She talked about how her daughter came home from her first day of school, the same day it was announced that her lawsuit against Ailes had been settled for $20 million, and said, “Mommy, I was so proud to say you were my mom.”
Carlson’s voice cracked and her eyes filled with tears as she continued talking about her daughter and how she stood up to two other students who had been picking on her in the aftermath.
“I had the courage to do it,” Carlson recalled her daughter saying, “because I saw you do it.”
Today, Carlson is headed to Dallas to start a nine-city tour to empower underserved women through her Gretchen Carlson Leadership Initiative. And she’s keeping close tabs on all the new #metoo stories coming out every day.
“I just feel so emboldened by seeing the bravery and courage of all these other women coming forward and not being maligned in the same way I was,” she said. “I feel like that’s a huge step in the right direction.”