Gretchen Carlson says the way we handle sexual harassment 'gags' the women who confront it

Gretchen Carlson Fortune Most Powerful Women 2017 SummitFortune Most Powerful Women 2017 Summit‘You won’t be believed,’ Gretchen Carlson (pictured) said at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women (MPW) Summit.

Former Fox News Channel host Gretchen Carlson shook (stunned?) the media world when she filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit against Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes in 2016.

In her lawsuit, Carlson said Ailes repeatedly sexually harassed her, and that she was fired from her job of 11 years for turning down his sexual advances.

The lawsuit ultimately led to Ailes’ resignation from the network, which he had headed since its founding in 1996, and Carlson settled the suit for a reported $US20 million in 2016.

But Carlson did not walk away from the accusation unscathed.

On Wednesday at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women (MPW) Summit, the TV journalist said she faced concentrated backlash on social media when she came forward, and many people close to her distanced themselves. “You find out who your friends are in a big way,” she said. “It can be a very alone experience.”

Carlson also said that, for many people who confront sexual harassment head on, the fallout can often be steep:

“First of all, if you do come forward, you’ll be labelled a ‘troublemaker’ or a ‘bitch.’ More importantly, you won’t be believed. And, some people have even suggested that you do it for money or fame.”

Carlson said it takes courage to put your career on the line and report sexual harassment in the workplace.

“When you know that that’s the culture that we still live in … it’s the most important decision of your life to dig deep for that courage, to know that you might torpedo everything that you’ve worked so hard for.”

Unsurprisingly, while one in three working women aged 18 to 34 surveyed by Cosmopolitan said they have been sexually harassed at work, 71% of these women said they did not report it. Of those that did, only 15% said they felt the report was handled fairly.

“Basically, the way we solve sexual harassment in society right now is either to settle with women, which gags them from speaking about the details, or we force them into mandatory arbitration instead of an open court system where it’s completely secret, which also gags them,” Carlson said.

More than 55% of workers are subject to mandatory arbitration in the US, according to the Economic Policy Institute’s survey of nonunion private-sector employers. This means that more than half of private-sector employees in the US have signed an agreement with their employer stating that, should they have a legal claim against them, they are barred from taking their issue to court and must instead handle the claim through the arbitration procedure designated in the agreement.

For those who are considering reporting sexual harassment at work, Carlson offered a handful of concrete tips from her forthcoming book on the matter, “Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back:” document everything you can, seek advice from an attorney, and talk to trusted coworkers who could serve as witnesses.

While Carlson told the audience that “courage is not an overnight experience — it takes time,” she also said that she is hopeful that more women will feel empowered to have a voice.

“Look what’s happening. This time is now.”

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