Since the media first reported my story about sexual harassment at Fox News, one question has weighed heavily on my mind: What can I do to help women who simply can’t afford to stand up against workplace harassment?
Over the last 15 months, I’ve heard from thousands of women: fast food workers, single moms, and many other women working two jobs just to try and make ends meet.
Putting aside the enormous courage it takes to actually speak up, many women can’t risk the financial consequences of standing up to power and subjecting themselves to retaliation, character assassination, demotion, termination and blacklisting. They want to work, and they need their paychecks.
Few women have the resources to hire experienced attorneys, the time to engage in drawn-out litigation or the name-recognition to draw media attention to their plights. Most are destined to become statistics or anonymous “Jane Does” consigned to a “star chamber” procedure called arbitration where the odds are heavily stacked against them. And that’s just not fair.
So, what can I do to help these women?
Speaking up about harassment and other forms of abuse is an important step in the process, but it’s only the first step in a mission to make change happen — to make life better for our friends, co-workers and children. As I’ve written here before, my advocacy efforts most recently have been focused on Capitol Hill, where I’m working to obtain bi-partisan support for a bill that would take sexual harassment out of the shadows by prohibiting forced arbitration clauses that are embedded in many employment contracts.
And now, I’m proud to announce the Gretchen Carlson Leadership Initiative, a program I believe will be the beginning of a solution. The GCLI grant will fund multi-day programming in nine cities, bringing women’s civic leadership training to thousands of underserved women, with a special focus on empowering survivors of gender-based violence, discrimination and harassment. Here’s the most important part to me: The program will be free for anyone who wants to attend.
The GCLI workshops will cover three main areas:
Did you know that young women from underserved communities are especially unlikely to participate in the political process? GCLI will teach women across the country how government works and provide them with the tools, resources and strategies they need to effect change on the issues they care about most.
Did you know that women who have experienced harassment or violence often avoid civic participation entirely? GCLI will help women tap into their power as citizen-advocates and voters, highlighting the importance of their voices and leadership in the civic arena and prioritizing the one or two issues on which they want to take action to effect change.
Did you know increasing women’s levels of pay to eliminate the pay gap could cut the poverty rate for working women in half? GCLI will empower and inspire women to work together to develop a plan of action and become advocates for change in their communities. On issues of workplace harassment, domestic violence, sexual assault and bullying, there’s still much work to be done with lawmakers at the state and federal levels. That’s why it’s so important to keep adding more — and more diverse — voices to the cause.
GCLI is being financially supported by my Gift of Courage fund, and I’m partnering with the non-profit organization All In Together to put together the workshops and curricula. GCLI will embark on its nine-city tour starting in November. The first stop will be Dallas-Fort Worth on Nov. 2-4 — a familiar place for me since I worked there from 1998 to 2000 — followed by a hometown stop in Minneapolis-St. Paul on Jan. 11-13.
I never expected to become the face of this issue, but here I am. I’ve lived my life by the motto “Carpe Diem,” which means seize every day and make the most of every opportunity. Through GCLI, I will share the “gift of courage” with others, encouraging you, your family members, your friends and your colleagues to stand up, speak up, come together and take your power back — a message you’ll find in my upcoming book, Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back. I hope it inspires you to find the inner strength and courage to take on the challenges confronting you. I’ve decided to donate all book proceeds to my Gift of Courage fund, so the good work that’s been started will continue to help women and girls to find their voices — and to always seize the day.
Gretchen Carlson is a former anchor on Fox News and an advocate for workplace equality and the empowerment of women. She is the author of the forthcoming book, Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back.