The 7th Annual Conversations with Extraordinary Women event was held in Danbury last night. The discussion hosted by the Women's Business Council of the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce featured Gretchen Carlson. She became the face of sexual harassment in the workplace last year and is now promoting having a safe work environment for all women.
Motivational speaker Holly Dowling says there’s a good way for women to feel empowered in the work place, and noted that it’s something that is cross cultural. She believes women should give themselves permission to stand up for and fall in love with who they are. Dowling said it’s not about waiting for the world to hand you something, it’s about standing up for yourself.
Moderator Christine Palm is the head of the state Commission on Women, Children and seniors. She was asked if it’s been a challenge to oversee the merged Commission. Palm noted that the biggest legislative initiative this session is paid family leave, which affects all three groups. She notes that women are still the primary caregivers of children and elderly parents. She says this is a turbulent time right now and a lot of women’s issues have been brought to light. Palm noted that the two speakers have experienced the yin and yang of corporate life. Palm says it was a powerful message about how everyone can take ownership of their own destiny and affect policy.
(Gretchen Carlson, Holly Dowling, Christine Palm, Women's Business Council Director JoAnn Cueva)
Carlson, just named to TIME’s 100 most influential people of 2017, started the Gift of Courage Fund this year. It empowers young girls by helping them build self-esteem and instill them with confidence. When she sued Fox News leader Roger Ailes for sexual harassment last year, she heard from thousands of women who had similar experiences with sexual harassment. She felt like she had to do something. Besides advocacy, that was setting up a fund to financially support existing organizations that do the same work.
Carlson spoke with several members of Congress recently about the issue of arbitration clauses, which are prevalent in business contracts now. She says people are basically signing away the 7th amendment rights. In many cases that go to arbitration, the perpetrator would stay in their job and nobody would ever find out about it because it’s done in secret. Carlson added that 9 times out of 10 the woman has to leave her workplace. She says what’s happened in 2017 is that we’re fooling our culture into believing that we’ve made advances in combating sexual harassment because there’s less talk about the cases. But it’s because many are being forced into secrecy in arbitration.
Changing the workplace culture should not just be on the shoulders of women, according to Carlson.
If it’s just one or two women speaking up, it’s hard to make a change. She encouraged everyone who’s been a victim of sexual harassment in the work place to speak out. But she also encouraged men to be part of the equation. As long as men are still in power in 95-percent of Fortune 500 companies, they need to understand this issue. Carlson called on men not to label women who speak out as “trouble makers” and to celebrate women who come forward. Carlson suggested that the way in which sexual harassment cases are reported may need to be taken out of the hands of HR and instead placed in an outside, independent group that people can feel comfortable going to.
Carlson says he life has worked in mysterious ways. She never expected to be the face of this issue, but the one constant is that she never gives up. Carlson says that’s the one thing that everyone should wake up with, that whatever the challenge—find the strength to never give up.