Gretchen Carlson on Fighting Workplace Harassment: 'We Silence the Woman and Save the Predator' | PEOPLE.com

Gretchen Carlson recently spoke with Women @ Meredith about her landmark lawsuit against Fox News and the aftermath of the #MeToo movement

By Morgan Smith
Updated November 23, 2020 12:12 PM
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Thousands of women still come to Gretchen Carlson with their stories.

They approach her in the grocery store, on the street, and fill her inbox with fear, confusion, and frustration about workplace harassment.

“In 2019, I’m hearing from a woman who asks for a promotion and her boss tells her to get up on her desk and spread ‘em,” Carlson, 54, told author and former PEOPLE reporter Natasha Stoynoff.

Carlson recently spoke with Stoynoff about her landmark lawsuit against Fox News and the aftermath of the #MeToo movement during the second installment of #StraightTalk, an interview series organized by the employee resource group Women @ Meredith. Meredith is PEOPLE’s parent corporation.

Credit: Roy Rochlin/WireImage

After leaving Fox News in 2016, Carlson filed a sexual harassment complaint against late Fox News chairman Roger Ailes. Accusations from six additional women followed, and Ailes was forced to resign from Fox News in July 2016. He died the following year.

Carlson’s story has since been told on the big and small screens — Naomi Watts portrayed her in the Showtime miniseries The Loudest Voice, and Nicole Kidman played Carlson in the 2019 Oscar-nominated movie Bombshell.

Although her case predated sexual misconduct accusations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, many have credited Carlson as an early catalyst for the #MeToo movement.

"She was the first, she was the pioneer and that took unbelievable courage," Watts has said of the journalist.

Carlson, who has emerged as an advocate for workplace equality and ending workplace sexual harassment, settled her suit out of court in September 2016. Now, she wants to help other women find their voice.

One of the biggest challenges employees face is non-disclosure agreements, which Carlson calls “silence mechanisms” used by companies against people who come forward with sexual misconduct allegations. Carlson signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of her settlement with Fox News — one that she said prevented her from collaborating with Watts and Kidman, who played her on-screen.

“I can't even tell you today whether or not those depictions of me are accurate,” she told Stoynoff. “My husband can’t tell you, my kids or parents can’t tell you ... this is how far-reaching the tentacles of NDAs go for companies to hide their dirty laundry.”

After her own battle with Fox News, Carlson said she realized sexual harassment was a “pervasive epidemic.” In 2019, Carlson started the nonprofit organization Lift Our Voices alongside former Fox colleagues Julie Roginsky and Diana Falzone to put an end to nondisclosure agreements that prevent people who have been harassed at work from speaking out about it. NDAs are still a common practice in many industries.

“What happens with women most often when you come forward with sexual harassment is that you are blacklisted, demoted, or fired,” Gretchen said. “We silence the woman and we save the predator.”

She continued: “I thought I was all by myself … that's what they do to us. They make us feel like we're all alone. That’s why I'm working so hard to change this, not for Gretchen Carlson. If I get out of my NDA, fantastic, but I'm not doing all this work just for my story. Once we can try to change the way in which businesses look at this and honor women who do this, instead of putting them out to pasture, then we've made great strides.”

In addition to running Lift Our Voices, Carlson recently joined PEOPLE! The TV Show as a special contributor and launched a daily podcast, Get the News with Gretchen Carlson, available through the Quake Media app and at QuakeMedia.com.

Carlson said she plans to use her new gigs to tell stories that empower women. “I'm doing this for the millions of women who don't have the voice and the platform and the resources that I might have to be able to do this fight in the right way,” she said.

Changing the landscape of the American workforce to be safer, more inclusive, and supportive of survivors will be her “greatest achievement,” Carlson added. “We’ve made great strides in just four years — so I’m very hopeful.”