Gretchen Carlson is a champion of change. The morning star of Fox News Channel’s top rated “Fox and Friends,” opened Pandora’s Box on July 6, 2016 by suing Fox News chairman Roger Ailes for sexual harassment, that resulted in his termination from the network. Since then she paved the way for the #MeToo movement and for all women in general speak up against sexual advances on the workplace.
This fearless journalist-producer was named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” and is a member of the TIME’S UP Global Leadership Board. She’s a PEOPLE TV special contributor and host of the new daily news podcast “Get The News With Gretchen Carlson” on Quake Media. Carlson is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Be Fierce” and “Getting Real”.
Her story has been adapted in the drama film, directed by Jay Roach, Bombshell and the television miniseries The Loudest Voice, and yet Gretchen Carlson could not give any input on either projects because the lawsuit she filed against Ailes was settled with an exit package that involved her signing an NDA that prevented her from ever speaking about Ailes or Fox News again.
Recently the Fox News whistleblower co-founded the non-profit Lift Our Voices to end the silencing of harassment victims through forced arbitration and non-disclosure agreements. Gretchen Carlson shares her plight across multiple initiatives, dedicated to creating positive, systemic change in the American workplace.
Q: You’ve been on the front lines reporting the biggest stories in America for over two decades, how does it feel to have switched from role of narrator to silenced protagonist?
GC: As a journalist, you’re never supposed to become the story so it’s been an interesting twist of fate for me. However, in jumping off the cliff 5 years ago and telling my truth, it was worth it. I’ve always been an advocate for women but never realized my greatest calling in life would be to fight for women on a full time basis.
Q: If you could turn back time, would you still sign that Non Disclosure Agreement?
GC: Never. But how could I have known that I would help to ignite an international movement by my actions and that we would actually be having a conversation now about not forcing women to sign NDAs. I just assumed it was part of the process as it was 5 years ago. I did get a public apology which was certainly progressive for back then and I was also given the ability to speak openly about the issue of harassment which I have taken full advantage of to help so many others. But yes, my voice and my truth has been portrayed in the movie Bombshell and the mini-series The Loudest Voice and I couldn’t participate or even tell you whether or not the portrayals of me are even accurate. I believe everyone should be able to own their own truths.
Q: Can you describe how you, Julie Roginsky and Diana Falzone got together to create Lift Our Voices?
GC: NBC News announced that they were going to let women who had signed NDAs there out of them in Nov 2019 so we got together and said, if they are doing that, we should demand Fox News let us out of of ours. So we sent a legal letter demanding that … we still have never had any response. We got a lot of press attention around that and I was already doing a lot of advocacy work to make workplaces safer, so we decided to form Lift Our Voices to serve as the umbrella organization housing all of the work we were fighting to change — forced arbitration clauses in employment contracts (prevalent in corporate America) and NDAs that keep toxic workplace issue silent.
Q: How faithful to the facts did you find the film Bombshell and the TV miniseries The Loudest Voice, and who did you prefer between Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts playing your part?
GC: As I said above I couldn’t participate so I have to take the high road. First, it was unbelievable that actresses of the caliber of Naomi and Nicole took on the role of Gretchen Carlson. That is surreal — and would not have happened just a short time ago — because no one cared about these issues. So I’m so happy they did. Also, I know both the movie and the mini-series have helped so many people which is what I’m all about — so even though I couldn’t participate I know the projects have helped countless people. My kids chuckled at how they were portrayed too! 🙂
Q: Since you were not allowed to advise on either projects because of the NDA you signed, do you feel that the upcoming XTR documentary directed by Cynthia Lowen, In Her Own Words, will allow you to reclaim the narrative?
GC: The upcoming documentary is about my mission to make workplaces safer for all people — mainly women, people of color and the LGBTQ community. I still won’t be able to tell my “real” story. But it will be educational to warn millions of others to be wary of what they sign when they go to work, and how much we have accomplished in a short period of time for the betterment of all women.
Q: Can you describe your work with bi-partisan coalitions of legislators in Congress to introduce and advocate for the “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act”?
GC: Yes! I first introduced my bipartisan bill to eradicate forced arbitration clauses in employment contracts for harassment and assault at the end of 2017 in the House and the Senate. And I’ve testified before the House Judiciary twice and look forward to testifying now before the Senate Judiciary, as my bill was just reintroduced in July again in both the House and the Senate! And this time we are going to pass it. It will be a game changer for millions of American workers and the greatest change in labor laws in America in nearly 100 years. It will be my greatest life achievement.
Q: You created the Gretchen Carlson Leadership Initiative to advocate for female empowerment, what are the stories from women who benefitted from this program that touched you the most?
GC: Oh my there were so many! The number one question I got asked after my story broke was — ok you had the resources and the platform to make your case public but what about the thousands of women who are literally struggling to make ends meet? That troubled me because I didn’t originally have a great answer. And that was the impetus for the GC Leadership Initiative funded by my Gift of Courage Fund. We did a 13 city tour for disadvantaged women in each community where they could come and learn how to be empowered, get legal help for harassment, get free child care and food and walk away with more self-confidence! The best story was at the event in Dallas where one of the women who came in had her head down and didn’t say hardly anything, and by the end of the 2 day free seminars she raised her hand and said she wanted to run for political office!
Q: You founded the Carlson March of Dimes Advocacy Fellows program, to promote American legislation benefiting women and children, what policies that were achieved through this initiative make you the proudest?
GC: 20 women were selected for the program I financed through my Gift of Courage fund. They came from all over the United States after a rigorous selection process. They grew so much in one year! Some came into the program without any experience in advocating for themselves or for policies that affect them and/or their children — and at the end they were rallying people on the steps on their own statehouses and passing legislation to benefit women! I still hear from many of them who have turned their lives into becoming advocates. Paying it forward works!
Q: Overturning patriarchy is not an anti-male conversation, but until only women will discuss this, it will be perceived as such. So what do you suggest to get more males involved in gender politics initiatives?
GC: Great question! My work is not at all about male bashing! In fact our goal is to invite in men into our conversations — because it’s only by including men that we actually start to make change. Why? Because men still rule the world and are in charge of most Fortune 1000 companies. That means they do all of the hiring and promoting and putting people in the boardroom. They also set the tone inside the company about how women are treated and respected and believed when they come forward. So I always say the buck stops with the leader and if they say they won’t accept bad behavior and honor women who come forward and get rid of the bad apples — it changes everything!
Q: You are American, but have become an international champion of change, are you planning to expand Lift Our Voices or more initiatives to Europe or other countries?
GC: Yes. We are now hiring our first Executive Director for Lift Our Voices and are very excited about eventually creating regional office in the United States and also around the world. I hear from women from all over the world so I realize this is not just an American problem! And everyone has a stake in fixing it. If you feel so inclined, please visit LiftOurVoices.org to learn more and donate to our cause. Thank you.