Gretchen Carlson: Reporting Sexual Harassment to HR Can Backfire

May 15, 2017

If someone at the office makes unwanted sexual advances towards you, what do you do?

Many of us have been taught that the right course of action is to report the behavior to human resources personnel at our employer. But that may not be in your best interest, says Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News host who sued her network's chairman, Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment last July. (Fox News settled the suit and Ailes stepped down as chairman of the network a few weeks later.)

"Is human resources really the right place to go?" she asked the audience at Fortune's annual NYC Most Powerful Women dinner . "Because what I always equate it to is: Who's giving them the paycheck?"

"In the end," Carlson pointed out, "if the culture's being set from the top and it's trickling down to the lower levels, human resources may not be looking out for you."

The journalist said that her new book—due for publication in October—offers "about some new ways in which we might look" at sexual harassment, including different kinds of reporting mechanisms. The book, called Be Fierce, was inspired by the "thousands" of women who reached out to her in the wake of her suit, sharing their own stories of harassment and other abuse.

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Speaking at the Time Warner Conference Center in New York City, Carlson told the audience that "we have a lot of work to do" when it comes to fighting sexual harassment in the workplace. "Just look at my social media accounts," she says, referring to online trolls.

Despite the backlash she has seen in the aftermath of her lawsuit, the former Fox and Friends host has no plans on leaving the headlines anytime soon—"I never, ever give up"—and has agreed to testify before Congress about forced arbitration, the fine print in many employment contracts that requires employees to give up their rights to litigation and instead agree to settle all employment disputes via arbitration.

The biggest issue with the system, Carlson said, is the secrecy. After all is said and done, "the predator [can] keep working and you're gone."

The journalist's next fight is to change the way the U.S. legal system takes on sexual harassment cases. It's not just about the women who have reached out to her during the lawsuit, but about the next generation.

Her young daughter is already following her example and more readily standing up to bullies—and that makes her fight a worthwhile one. "If it helped my daughter be a stronger woman and my son to see what I did," she said, "it was all worth it."

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