Gretchen Carlson went public about the sexual harassment she endured from Roger Ailes as an employee of Fox News and got Roger Ailes fired. Carlson did not agree to stay silent when offered a settlement as part of a nondisclosure agreement, and she got fired. It took courage to go public, and, subsequently, many women have come forward to tell their previously undisclosed stories of sexual harassment. In her article in the New York Times, Carlson notes that, according to the National Women’s Law Center, “almost half of all women have been sexually harassed at work. And those are the ones who have been brave enough to reveal it.” In a previous article, I explain why sexual harassment is still so prevalent in the workplace. Carlson has committed herself to taking action to create workplaces free of sexual harassment for our daughters––places where offensive comments about women will not be dismissed as “locker room talk” and sexual assault will not be tolerated. She explains that while women need to feel able to come forward and say, “This is not OK,” creating harassment-free work environments will require more than women speaking up after the fact. She offers the following suggestions:
- Companies should not be allowed to force newly hired employees to sign contracts that require secret arbitration of all discrimination disputes, including sexual harassment claims. Carlson explains that secrecy silences women and leaves harassers free from accountability. In addition, arbitration rarely favors the accuser and cannot be appealed. Carlson plans to testify before Congress to help fight forced arbitration, and we all need to weigh in with our representatives to support legislation to stop forced arbitration contracts.
- We should reassess whether human resources (HR) departments are the right places for victims to lodge their complaints. As demonstrated by Carson’s case at Fox News, HR and corporate legal departments are often loyal to the company executives who hire them and see their job as protecting the company by covering up the misdeeds of executives to prevent lawsuits. In fact, when I was consulting to companies in the 1990s and early 2000s about how to set up policies and procedures that would create harassment-free environments for employees, a best practice was to have an outside ombudsman, often an employment law firm, on retainer to represent the interests of the employees. After this time, arbitration clauses were added to employment contracts and this route to safety for employees was closed off.
- We should reassess sexual harassment training given by companies. I agree with Carlson that such training is often a corporate façade that creates the illusion of compliance with antiharassment laws. While Carlson suggests that harassment training should be assessed for effectiveness, I maintain that training without effective reporting procedures that bring perpetrators to justice can never be effective. In other words, don’t blame the training. Employees always know when “no tolerance” statements are insincere or not backed up by procedures with teeth to protect them.
- We should be conscious and intentional about raising both boys and girls to show respect to each other at school and at home.
- Men should hire more women into positions of power and stop enabling harassers. Carlson states that men and women need to work together: “This is not only a women’s issue. It’s a societal issue.”