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Podcast: Gretchen Carlson on Learning to Be Fierce

Podcast: Gretchen Carlson on Learning to Be Fierce

We sat down with Gretchen Carlson, acclaimed broadcast news anchor and former FOX News host, to discuss her work to eradicate sexual harassment and the huge cultural shift happening right now.

Gretchen opens up about her own experiences and reflects on the cultural shift represented by the #MeToo movement. She also discusses the bi-partisan bill going through Congress to help enact change here in Washington DC.

Listen as she shares her reflections on the past year:

Or, download the podcast from iTunes.

Podcast Transcription

Here is the full transcription of this podcast episode:

Stephen Colbert: My next guest tonight is a former Fox News host and current activist in the fight to stop sexual harassment. Please welcome, Gretchen Carlson.

Gretchen Carlson: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Colbert: Thanks so much for being here.

Gretchen: Of course!

Colbert: You absolutely were and are fierce in what you have done. It was a year and a half ago that you brought your suit publicly against Roger Ailes?

Gretchen: Yeah, it's a date you never forget, July 6, 2016.

Colbert: People forget now, because Ailes is no longer with us and his fall was so precipitous, but he was a very powerful and dangerous man in the media industry, especially. What did you think was going to happen?

Gretchen: I mean, it's an excruciating choice for any woman to make this kind of decision, because before the environment of what we're in right now, you're automatically called the liar, not to be believed, worse. "You just can't take a joke." Here's what I think has happened now, Stephen, is that thank God, more women are being fierce, and they have found the courage from within and the bravery to come forward and say, "Me too". And they're saying, they're not going to put up with this crap anymore. And if I had anything to do with that, I am eternally grateful. If I give the courage to one person to come forward and be fierce, then my mission has been accomplished.

Leading Authorities: So that's audio of former Fox News anchor. Gretchen Carlson on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert this fall. You'll remember last July, Gretchen shocked the media world when she came forward with a lawsuit against her former employer, Fox News. But what Gretchen didn't know as she debated whether or not to file, was just how momentous her decision would end up being. The flood gates opened and in 2017, we've seen a surge of prominent women from Megyn Kelly to Ashley Judd to Taylor Swift, all come forward with stories of their own. Today I talk with Gretchen about what it's been like for her to witness this huge cultural shift, how she deals with those trolls who still come after her online on a daily basis and the incredible work she's doing on Capitol Hill to help women feel safer and more empowered in the workplace. You're listening to, Speaking of, where we sit down with innovators and thought leaders to talk about ideas that are changing the world now. I'm your host, Maddie Glading. Gretchen, thank you so much for being with us.

Gretchen: I'm glad to be back. Thanks for having me.

Leading Authorities: What a year for women and for you. We all are familiar with your story, and I've heard you describe what happened last year as sort of you feeling as though you were jumping off a cliff on your own. We're a little over a year later, could you have ever imagined that this is where we would be culturally?

Gretchen: Never. I mean, when I jumped off the cliff by myself, I had no way of knowing what was gonna happen to me in the next couple of minutes or hours or days, much less weeks and months in a year. And so, in one respect, I'm so heartened by the courage that has been passed along to so many other women to feel brave enough to come forward and share their own stories of sexual harassment or sexual assault, and just having a voice in general, knowing that speaking up and standing up is just so imperative. And for so long, women have been silenced, which sounds so ridiculous in 2017 to say that, but we're finding out how true it's been. The other side of it is that the revelations that are coming out are horrifying, and so I can't be happy about hearing about how awful women have been treated. But this is the way that we have progress and cultural shifts take a long time. The idea that we've seen so much changed since my story broke just 17 months ago is unbelievable when you think about it. And it's my hope that you can't put the genie back in the bottle, that now we've come so far along, but we're really just starting to hear about all the stories.

Leading Authorities: And so how have you felt? I agree, it kind of is both things at once, your horrified, but then at the same time, you're almost a little relieved. Why? Why do you think society is ready to start having these conversations now in 2017?

Gretchen: Well, one of my favorite quotes happens to be Anonymous, unfortunately, because I'd love to credit somebody, but I use it often, which is "One woman can make a difference. But together we rock the world." And that's really what I think that we're seeing happen. Of course, we had Anita Hill 25 years ago, but then we had a lull. A lot of companies instilled sexual harassment training, but really, we didn't talk about the issue very much. And at the same time, companies also instilled ways for women to not be able to tell their stories, and we can talk a little bit more about that later, but that's the arbitration clause problem. And so, I think we were fooling our society into thinking that we had come so far, because we weren't hearing about these stories, but the reason we weren't hearing about them is because they were all going into these secret chambers. So, when I finally had the courage to come forward and then other women followed me, it really, I think, set off this tidal wave or tsunami, or whatever, weather analogy you wanna use where women were like, "Okay, now's our chance, finally". And I think the fact that we're still covering this from a news media point of view says a lot, because in this day and age, we have no attention span and we're moving on even after mass shootings after just a couple of days of coverage. So, the idea that we're still talking about, this says to me two things, the media is definitely interested, and number two the American public wants to hear about it. And that's why I think we're seeing this cultural shift, is that the majority of the American public is like "Enough is enough. We thought we had solved these issues and now that we know we haven't, we wanna make sure we do".

Leading Authorities: And I think we all know that Time Magazine Person of the Year, the Me Too movement, and I think that what was so interesting on the cover they had Taylor Swift, they had all of these very high-profile women, and then they had that elbow to, to show women who maybe don't have a platform. Do you think that this wave that's been building and this momentum will ultimately have an effect that's long lasting and affects women who maybe don't have the platform that other women have?

Gretchen: It's such a great question because this has really been my mission, and it was the one question that I got a lot after my story broke, which is, how do you help the single mom working two jobs who's also being harassed? She can simply not afford to come forward, and she doesn't have not only the resources, but the platform for a national stage. And it really gnawed at me and it's one of the biggest reasons that I set up through my Gift of Courage fund, the Gretchen Carlson Leadership Initiative, which is a nine-city tour happening right now in 2017 into 18, where for three days of workshops underprivileged women can come and learn about domestic violence and sexual harassment, and how to have a voice civically and politically. And the best part is that they can come to these three days for free. And that's been so heartening to me to know that, okay, it may not solve the entire problem for the fast food worker, but it's at least a start and my fund giving this grant is a start to help them know that we care about them and we care about their voice. So, I also hope, and this is what I tell all the women who keep reaching out to me every day is, please go to your local media right now to tell your story. Because even though if you're not famous and you're not from Hollywood and you're not on television, you're not in politics, the local media will also care about your story now. So please know that your voice counts in Topeka, Kansas or in my small town in Minnesota, where I grew up or wherever you are, please have the courage to go and tell your story publicly because now is the time.

Leading Authorities: You also have a book that was released this fall, "Be Fierce", New York Times Best Seller, congratulations.

Gretchen: Thank you.

Leading Authorities: Was there a moment after everything happened where you realized that your story needed to be put down in print and needed to be told? Can you tell us a little about that?

Gretchen: So, my family laughs about this, because after I wrote my memoir just two years ago, I was like, I'm never writing another book because it's so much hard work. Really the marketing of the book is so difficult and the book industry has changed so dramatically. But really what happened after my story broke was that all these women started reaching out to me. Another thing I could've never predicted. And first it was dozens and then it was hundreds. And my good Midwestern sensibilities told me I need to respond to all these women and so I started writing them all back, and then it went into the thousands, and then it went over ten thousand. And these stories that I was getting from women from all across the country from all socioeconomic lines from every profession made me realize that harassment was a pervasive epidemic. And even I didn't know that. And the one constant that they said to me is, thank you for being our voice 'cause our voices were never ever heard. And so, I felt this sense of duty to put it down on paper and to tell their stories. And interestingly enough, when I went back to them and said, "Would you mind if I told your story in Be Fierce?", almost all of them said, "Would you?". So, it made me realize how important it was to let the rest of the world know about all these women, these invisible women who have lost their careers. Here's the most outrageous thing that I found out. Almost all the women who reached out to me never worked in their chosen profession ever again after they somehow found the bravery to come forward, and that is outrageous. So, I'm calling on companies right now instead of talking about how do we rehab all these predators that we're learning about, and when will they be back in the workforce, what about hiring back the thousands and maybe millions of women who have lost the American dream because of some random jerk harassing them in the workplace? I mean, really, it's like a huge percentage of a population that is not working in their chosen profession. And so, we're raising our girls and boys and telling them they can be anything they want to be, except we're really not. And so, this is really proof of how much this mission involves so many different facets to fix. It's not just women coming forward with bravery, it's men helping us stop being enablers. It's passing new legislation to take it out of the shadows of secrecy. It's the way in which we choose to parent our girls and our boys with gender equality. It's so many different things coming together. It's companies having the bravery to look at their own policies and their own ways in which they've been talking about this within the confines of the workplace structure and say, you know what, we need to do this better. And so, it's all of these things that I'm trying to bring attention to. We're seeing progress, we're seeing it all happen.

Leading Authorities: So, what do you hope readers take away? Obviously, you're talking about how this is not just a problem for women also for men, for corporations. What do you hope readers take out of it? And what would you say to a woman who is maybe in a situation, whether it's I don't want to say minor, but something smaller or something larger, what would be your advice?

Gretchen: So within "Be Fierce", chapter four is my playbook. And I really wanted to put together this twelve-point plan for women, because most of the time you don't know what to do. And number two, it may not be happening to you right now, but it could and you want to be prepared. So, I'll give you the top three points. You need to call a lawyer right away, and you can go to the National Women's Law Center and they will help you if you don't have the resources or you can go to, and they will also help you. That's number one. You got to get some legal advice. Don't necessarily run off to HR because it may not be the exact right place right away. It could be right after you talk to a lawyer, but I recommend you first get legal advice. Number two, document what's happening to you and make sure that you take that information home. So, they have it with you. And number three, even though it's so hard, please tell at least two trusted colleagues, because as long as we're still in the he said-she said environment, people may not believe you. We're coming around, but they may not believe you, and so you need to have witnesses. So that's really why I wanted to put together the book as well, not only to tell the women's stories, but to move the ball forward. How do we fix this? How do we help women with a plan? And then how do we fix it for men to help us to corporations, to help us for people on Capitol Hill, our members of Congress to help us? And that's why I'm so proud that I presented recently a bipartisan bill in the House and the Senate to get rid of the secrecy of arbitration clauses and employment contracts with the idea that I could get Republicans and Democrats to come together on something. This doesn't happen right now. You know, it, we're in DC, this does not happen. And so, I'm really, really proud of all the hard work that I've been doing behind closed doors over the last year to especially get Republicans on board. So, we'll see now where this goes, I'm not giving up really, I need to pass this and get this on the President.

Leading Authorities: So, I want to come back to that in just one second. But you have talked a lot about the amazing stories from brave women who have come forward and shared their experiences in the hopes of adding their voice to this wave. I also have noticed that on Twitter, you hear from a lot of people who maybe seem to discredit voices or the work that you're doing and you do not shy away from hitting back, which is awesome. Does it wear on? Do you to get tired of it, or does it sort of strengthen your resolve to fight this fight?

Gretchen: Yeah, it's really funny. After I turned forty, that was pretty liberating after I just recently turned fifty, that was really liberating, so I don't really care what people think about me to be honest with you. My dad gave me the best advice, and I grew up in Minnesota where people know it's Minnesota Nice. So, you have to remember that when I say this and my dad, everyone loves my dad, he said "Gretchen, you're never going to be able to change everyone to like you. So, you try the best you can with the people you think that you can change and the others you just have to walk away from". And it's the way I look at social media. I'm never going to change everyone's mind for God's sake. You're never going to have 100 percent agreement.

Leading Authorities: You'd spend your whole day in your Twitter feed.

Gretchen: You'd spend your whole day, so often times I kill my trolls with kindness. I'll write back and say, "Oh, well, thanks for discrediting me, but I hope you have a fantastic day" and then sometimes they'll step all over themselves to be like, "Oh, well, I didn't really mean it that way". And other times I just zing them, you know like if they say something about my looks, which unfortunately, it's still common for women to be trolled that way, I'll write back and say, "I'm sure you're a perfect 10". Here's what I've seen happen over the last 17 months since my story broke, a lot of the trolls are now being shamed more than they were when my story happened, because more and more people are believing the women. And so, the shame is being taken away from the women who have been victimized in this and it's being transferred rightfully to the perpetrators and to the trolls on social media.

Leading Authorities: Which is such a shift.

Gretchen: It's such a shift. So, you're never going to change the hearts and minds of everyone, but that's fine. That's what America's about. It's about First Amendment rights and everyone having the right to have their free speech, and I don't have a problem with that, but I'm going to continue my fight.

Leading Authorities: So, we've touched on your legislation, which is so exciting and which is why you're in DC this week and you have been in DC. Can you tell us what, I don't want to get this wrong, the Fairness and Arbitration act, what does it propose to change and why is it so important?

Gretchen: So, it's actually a splintering off of that proposed bill, because we wanted to make it even more narrow so that we could really make it bipartisan because Republicans and Democrats don't agree on the arbitration issue in general. So, what is arbitration? Arbitration clauses have become incredibly prevalent in employee contracts. And what it means is, if you have a dispute at work, you can't go to an open jury process, your 7th amendment right. You have to go to arbitration. Why do I think arbitration is not great for sexual harassment cases? Well, a lot of reasons. You don't get the same amount of witnesses or depositions. Often times, your company picks the arbitrator for you. Only 20 percent of the time does the employee win. The settlements are much less than an open jury process. But here's the real clincher, there are no appeals and the whole process is secret. Let's say you're being harassed at work. You file a claim with HR. You immediately get sent to secret arbitration. Okay, nobody ever knows what happened to you. In most cases, you're fired simply for having the bravery for coming forward, and now you get to sit in this arbitration process and never be able to tell anyone why you don't work anymore and what happened to you ever? And that is what I'm trying to change.

Leading Authorities: And when all these people are saying, how has this gone on so long unchecked?

Gretchen: This is why.

Leading Authorities: How is this all just coming to light now?

Gretchen: Well, this is why, because that's the way we have chosen to solve workplace harassment cases. 60 million Americans have arbitration clauses right now. They've doubled since the year 2000. They were never intended to cover up a company's dirty laundry per se, sexual harassment or discrimination. They were for small business disputes. So, I'm not arguing that employees should be able to run out and talk about confidentiality with regard to trade secrets and business secrets. Of course, when you're an employee, it's your obligation to not go out in public and do that, but this was never intended to keep sexual harassment and discrimination secret, but that's what's been happening. The other way in which we've chosen to resolve sexual harassment cases is settlements. And that's what happened to me. But here's the bad part about that women are also silenced when we sign settlement agreements. So, whether it's arbitration or settlements, nobody in the world is finding out what happened to all these women. And that's why we've been fooling our culture to think we've come so far. So, we need to lift the veil of secrecy. Within the workplace imagine if nobody can see me with my hands right now, but if you have your right hand up and this is the perpetrator in the workplace, and that person has all the power when you have arbitration clauses 'cause the person way down here with my left hand, which is down by my side, they're secretive, their voices can't be heard. But if you take away that secrecy, suddenly my left hand rises up to be equal with my right hand with the perpetrator right, now you have a voice. So, it probably stops harassment first and foremost, but it certainly holds people accountable. And I think that makes fairness in America a reality for all of us. So, the bill is very slender. It's only on this particular issue, and that's why I think it has an incredible chance of passing.

Leading Authorities: And how has it been received on both sides?

Gretchen: Yeah, so I've been working on it behind closed doors for more than a year, really trying to get both parties on board. Getting rid of arbitration tends to be more of a democratic issue, so I've been meeting more with Republicans to try and get them on board but here's what I say, "Do you want to be on the right side of history or the wrong side of history? Do you want to raise your hand for the predator or for women?" Because both parties need the female vote. We've seen that in every election, right? It's usually females that are deciding which way the pendulum swings. And do you have a wife? Do you have daughters? Do you have grandchildren? Do you have nieces? Often times, when I've gone in to meet with senators and representatives, they'll tell me stories of their own family members, and so it makes my sell to them relatively easy behind closed doors. The bigger thing has been, do they have the bravery to come forward and be in favor of this? Even if it hasn't always been something that the Republican party in general would want to support because a big business ties and Chamber of Commerce ties and those sorts of things. So, it does take bravery and honesty on behalf of the politicians, but I'm seeing it happen.

Leading Authorities: Is there any sort of time frame that you're hopeful for?

Gretchen: Sooner the better. Yeah, we want to take the secrecy away so that more and more women are not getting fired in secret, but I'm really hopeful that we could be looking actually, optimistically, in the next couple of months. Nothing on Capitol Hill happen swiftly, but this would be really amazing that we could get something bipartisan done for women. Now that would really make the year of the women in 2017 flow right into 2018.

Leading Authorities: Is it interesting to be on the other side of, not reporting, but on the Hill and actually working for the passage of something? Are you enjoying the political process?

Gretchen: Well, honestly, so I've had a docu-series group following me around and so that project isn't announced yet, but it's going to be out in May. So, I am actually reporting on it at the same time that I'm advocating, but I believe it's an apolitical issue, so journalistically, I could be doing this no matter who I was working for. Yeah, it's really an apolitical issue, but I really am hopeful that I'm going to be going back to TV in 2018. I've been doing my career for more than 25 years. My husband jokes with me all the time, "What happened to you just having one full time job now you have like six?" and I do 'cause I've been writing the book, I've been advocating for this bill, I've been out on the speaking tour, I started the Gretchen Carlson Leadership Initiative, I started the Gift of Courage fund to give money to organizations to empower women and girls, I'm working on this docu-series, I'm raising my two preteen kids, and so I've always worked and I've always been busy, so I don't just want to go home and sit down and not do anything. I really want to go back to the profession that I love as well.

Leading Authorities: And so, what... I guess last question would be, what are your hopes for 2018, for the Me Too movement, for you? How do you see this continuing to build and continuing to maintain this momentum that we've all seen develop?

Gretchen: I think it's really only the tip of the iceberg now. And as we were discussing earlier, I hope it trickles down to the every woman so that every woman's story is told. And so that women in all professions feel like their voices matter. And then I just say, never say never about what else we're going to see happen with, I believe that we'll see a female president, and I believe now it will happen sooner. I've been asked to run for politics. It's not in the cards for me right now, but never say never. I've been covering politics for 25 years. I'm fascinated by it. I wish the process was easier and I wish that your family life wouldn't be drawn into it. Otherwise, I think a lot more people would run, but we are seeing a surge in women wanting to become more active politically, and we need that to happen only 20 percent of congress is female. So, I think that we're going to see those next steps also happening as we're talking more and more about women having a voice in general.

Leading Authorities: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us Gretchen. This has been great.

Gretchen: Thanks for having me.

Leading Authorities: Thanks so much for listening to my conversation with Gretchen. Do you want to learn more about the work she's doing or find out how to be a fierce woman in the workplace? Check out her new book, "Be Fierce", it's out now. And we want to hear from you. Love the podcast? Hate the podcast? Send us an email,

To hear the rest of this podcast, click the SoundCloud player link above.

If you want to learn more about Gretchen Carlson or think Gretchen Carlson would be a good fit to speak at an upcoming event or meeting, please visit their speaker page . You can also call 1-800-SPEAKER or live chat with a member of our team now.

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