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Gretchen Carlson on Changing Power Dynamics and Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The author joins Larry Wilmore to discuss her new book, ‘Be Fierce’

Gretchen Carlson Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Gretchen Carlson, author, journalist, and former Miss America, joined Larry Wilmore’s Black on the Air podcast this week to talk about the culture of sexual harassment that has been prevalent in industries like tech and entertainment and what can be done to change it. Carlson, who last year sued former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes over allegations of sexual harassment, explores solutions to the problem and more in her new book, Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back.

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Larry Wilmore: I’ve been noticing how much the power dynamic comes [into] play [in industries where sexual harassment and assault has been prevalent] … especially in professions where it's so stark, like showbiz, like politics. Even the tech industry is going through that right now. It’s kind of like the Wild, Wild West because there's a lot of money to be made in a short amount of time. This creates power dynamics.

Gretchen Carlson: And it’s 80 percent men.

Wilmore: And it’s 80 percent men. Can you talk about that? How that type of situation lends itself to this type of activity?

Carlson: Well, I think that the college environment has a lot to do with how we’re socializing our men, especially coming into the workplace and the whole sort of frat mentality ...

Wilmore: Right. We’re training them to act a certain way.

Carlson: Training them to be awful! I mean, I hate to say it. I don’t want to pick on the Greek system, but it’s one of the reasons I’m doing a college campus tour with the book, because I feel it’s just really important to get to people young. If we start trying to teach an old dog new tricks in [their] 40s and 50s, forget it. They’ve already established who they are as people and whether or not they respect women. So assault on college campuses is rampant: One in five women will face it. … And it’s essential that we give [people] the tools early on to know how to show respect.

So I think that when you’re in a male-dominated field like tech, maybe we’re just carrying over those beliefs and [that] socialization from college, and it’s accepted because there aren’t that many women to stand up and say, “Stop it.” And by the way, when they do, look what happens. Susan Fowler from Uber had the courage to come forward, and she really changed the landscape at that company, and eventually the CEO was ousted. But it was the corporate culture, again. It should be mandatory that tech companies have as many female employees as males.

By the way, we’re encouraging our young women to go into these fields. The STEM fields are on fire at my daughter’s school right now. And so on the one hand, while we’re encouraging [women] to be interested in science, technology, engineering, and math, why are we not hiring them in those fields? I mean, what happens? Are the women just not as good as the male applicants? I find that hard to believe.

Wilmore: Yeah. … I feel like in any area where there’s a lot of money to be made in a short amount of time, there’s a certain culture of men that are just going to get there first.

Carlson: It’s so true.

Wilmore: And it’s like, “Everybody else, good luck.” It’s [a] very toxic culture. What do you think is the biggest reason why women aren’t listened to? Because I feel like they’re not listened to in many areas of society. I mean, you talk about just even in the boardroom, how a woman says something [and gets no response]. A guy says the same thing. “That’s brilliant, Johnson! How’d you come up with it?”

Carlson: It’s prevalent everywhere. But even look at advertising and how stupid companies have been over the years. Women make the decisions in the household for the most part—when you’re buying a car, when you’re buying any other big-ticket item. And it’s only been recently that even car companies have been savvy enough to realize, “Maybe we should be marketing to the females, right?” There was an Audi commercial during the Super Bowl this year, which was all about female empowerment. … And people were like, “Well, why would they do that kind of commercial?” Well, because women are the ones that are making these big-ticket-item decisions, for the most part. So advertising is slowly but surely figuring out, “Oh, we should cater to women.”

Now, within the corporate culture, how do we encourage men to hire more women? Because as long as men predominantly run the Fortune 500 companies at 94 percent, we’ve got to encourage them to help us. And that’s why I wrote the whole chapter that you’re featured in [in the book], “Men who defend and be fierce.” Because what I found, Larry, is that there are so many great men out there like yourself who are already doing good work and want to support women. So we need to encourage them even more so to put women in higher positions, to pay them the same that we pay men, to give them a seat in the boardroom, to give them that deserved promotion. And the whole idea of sexual harassment and fixing it shouldn’t just be on the shoulders of women. This is actually a man problem, for the most part.

Wilmore: Men need to fix this. It’s like, the real way to fix it is stop doing it.

Carlson: Right!

Wilmore: There are all these Band-Aids that go around the simplicity of: just stop harassing. Stop assaulting.

Carlson: Right. But here’s how else good men can help: We need to encourage them to also join the Be Fierce movement to stop being enablers, first and foremost.