Gretchen Carlson, BE FIERCE

Gretchen Carlson, BE FIERCE

Podcast host, author, and former news anchor Gretchen Carlson joins Zibby to discuss her life story. The two talk about Gretchen’s two books, Getting Real and Be Fierce, as well as her nonprofit, Lift Our Voices, which works to further female empowerment by advocating against the mechanisms used to silence women who come forward about workplace harassment. Gretchen also shares how LOV inspired her proposed bill, which is currently moving through Congress with an increasing amount of bipartisan support.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Gretchen. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your whole life, your books, your everything, this new bill. There’s so much to talk about. I don’t even know where to start.

Gretchen Carlson: I know. It’s really interesting because I’ve been accused of being a multitasker my whole life. Yes, I’m living that, but I’ve always been like that. I’m sure you’re the same, Zibby, and so many moms listening. We’re so busy. Yet somehow, we figure out how to get it all done before we drop ourselves into bed at night before the alarm goes off really early in the morning again. I think this is one of the qualities that we should celebrate as women. We are so good at this. Not to narc on men, but I always look at my husband and I’m like, he can only do, pretty much, one thing at a time. I’m doing all this other stuff. I know everyone listening can relate to that.

Zibby: That is so funny. By the way, aside from when I don’t have my kids, I never hear my alarm. The dog, the kids, someone’s waking me up. The alarm would be nice.

Gretchen: I know. I think once we have kids, our own alarm system kind of takes over. I don’t know about you, but I wake up at the little, tiniest pin drop of a sound. Then I’m up. Then I start thinking. I’m like, oh, gosh, where are they? I have a daughter who just went to college this year. She’s home for a little bit. She makes a lot of noise in the middle of the night because she doesn’t go to bed. This is how moms operate. We’re always on the go.

Zibby: How old is your other child?

Gretchen: My daughter’s eighteen. My son’s in that junior year of high school. It’s so tough. You haven’t gotten there yet. He’s a junior, so he’s sixteen. They’re both driving and moving on up.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. My twins are fourteen and a half, so we don’t have that long to wait.

Gretchen: Just wait. Relish it now. The driving part is good. You’re in the city, so maybe they won’t be driving as much. The driving part is good because it takes a little bit of the ownness off Mom and everyone to be driving kids around, but then you worry about them driving.

Zibby: I worry about everything anyway. There are so many things to worry about. It would just be moving it from one place to another. I feel like I’m already at maximum worry.

Gretchen: Get ready. It gets bigger.

Zibby: Oh, gosh. All right, great. Thanks for that. Really excited. In Get Real, your first book, your grandfather calls you Sparkles, which I thought was the cutest thing ever. It just really speaks to how you shine as a person and how you have gone from your Swedish family based in Minnesota all the way to being Miss America to Fox & Friends to now this huge advocate for women and so much else, and podcaster and everything. Your life story is so fascinating and inspiring. You must get that all the time, probably. Just to go back to your growing up, and you paint a portrait of your parents and where they came from and your mom and how strong a woman she was and all of that, how do you go from the girl who — the teacher didn’t believe you could read. You had to run home and say, I can read, I can read. How do you go from that to overcoming and just being the person you are? What did your parents do right?

Gretchen: Thank you so much. I will say my life has worked in mysterious ways. I think so many women can relate to this, whether they’re reinventing themselves later on in life or trying to figure out what they want to do with their life when they’re young. We’re always faced with those hurdles. My life is a great example of reinventing yourself many times over. I hope that can be inspiring to other people. I would just say that I’m so blessed to have grown up in a small town in Minnesota where the protestant work ethic was alive and well, which means that you worked incredibly hard. At the same time, my mom and my dad would say to me every night when they put me to bed, “You know Gretchen, you can be anything you want to be, but it’s going to take a tremendous amount of work.” I learned that from an early age, not only to be inspired by parents that believed in me and told me I could be anything, but that the caveat was always, you don’t have a free ride. You’re going to have to work incredibly hard. I did that early on. I was a really serious musician. Then I burned out with that, so then I reinvented myself. Although, my mom wanted me to keep playing violin, which is how I got involved in Miss America. Then I was going to be a lawyer. I went off to Stanford University.

Then the Miss America thing put me in the direction of television. Then I thought, well, I’ve always been inquisitive. I guess I’ll go and try to be a reporter, knowing that my LSATs were still good for five years in case I failed. Then that journey just kept putting me into new cities and new promotions and new places. Then when I got to Fox, never could I have ever envisioned in my life after rising to the top of the television industry, which was my dream, never could I imagine that I would become one of the poster children for sexual harassment in the workplace. That’s not something you aspire to, Zibby, when you’re building out your résumé. Yet everything I learned as a child, including the courage that it took to come forward, I harkened back to that. I harkened back to who I was as a five-year-old and being gutsy. I determined that if I don’t jump off this cliff and finally say something about this, who will? My childhood and my upbringing has a tremendous amount to do with who I ended up becoming all of these years later. I hope that people listening will look back on their childhoods and really dig deep and find those things that you’re still living through today. Whether it’s adversity or something good, those are life lessons that I know have continued to propel me into any future goal.

Zibby: Wow, that’s amazing. By the way, why are you not — I know in the book you said, or somewhere you said, you’re an independent in terms of politics, but I feel like you should be a leader. Why are you not in politics? I feel like you’d be such a great president. You’re so well-spoken. Have you thought about it?

Gretchen: Thank you for saying that. I did write in my high school yearbook when I was a senior — somebody reminded me of this recently. I wrote, someday, that maybe I would be Miss America and that I wanted to be president of the United States. Never say never. I was asked to run for senate in the state of Connecticut where I live now, but I was not interested in aligning with either party. That’s currently my conundrum. I think that we are so divided as a nation. It really, really bothers me. I think women in general are much more about compromise sometimes than even men are because men look at the totem pole of power and women look more about coming together in a circle to get things done. That’s how I look at politics. I would just say that maybe the road that I’m taking now on that journey, who knows where I end up?

That road I’m doing right now in trying to pass my legislation. I’m learning so much about how the political system works. It was so important to me that it was bipartisan. Who knows where this ends up? If I can get this legislation passed, it’ll be an insurmountable task. Never say never. I would just add as the caveat on that is that there’s no money in being an independent in politics. That’s why we haven’t seen more independents rise to the top. The political parties are so powerful. The amount of money they give to republicans and democrats, there’s no money for independents. If anyone’s inspired who’s listening, we should be rallying for a third party so that we could really get — forty-three percent of Americans identify as independent. We’re leaving all those people out in the dust by not having money behind a political party.

Zibby: Wow. That should be your thing, your next thing after you pass this. Gosh.

Gretchen: Maybe.

Zibby: Tell listeners about this legislation that you’re trying to push through, how personal it is and all the good news about it lately.

Gretchen: Thank you. Right after my story when I sued Fox News for harassment five and a half years ago, I thought it was just me. That’s the way the system has led women to believe over the last thirty, forty years kind of on purpose to keep all these issues silent in the workplace. You feel like you’re by yourself. One of the major reasons was that corporations have put these policies in workplace contracts that make sure that it stays secret. After I started hearing from thousands of women who reached out to me after my story saying, hey, the same thing happening to me and I was also shoved into secrecy, I decided I had to do something about it. I had to pay tribute to all of these women who no one has ever heard from ever again. Zibby, the most horrific thing that I learned was that they don’t work again. They think they’re doing the right thing. They come forward. They have the courage to do that. They’re immediately labeled as the pariah and the troublemaker. They’re blacklisted, demoted, and fired and pushed out of the company. Then they go to these secret places to adjudicate what happened to them, which is what I’m trying to eliminate, instead of an open-jury process. They might get some sort of a paltry settlement, but most of the time, they don’t. The crux of the whole matter for me was, they don’t ever work in their chosen profession ever again. What I’m trying to find out now is, how many women have we pushed out as a result of silencing people?

It’s why I founded my nonprofit, Lift Our Voices, about two years ago, to really zone in on these two silencing mechanisms in your workplace contract. I encourage everyone who works, go look at your contract. Most people don’t even know. The first thing is a forced arbitration clause. What does that mean? It means you can’t go to an open jury if you have a problem. You have to go to this secret chamber called arbitration where nobody ever knows what happened to you. Number two, these expansive non-disclosure agreements. Of course, companies should be able to protect their trade secrets. That was the point of NDAs to begin with, but they become so broad that when you start on your first day of work, we’ve been walking in with masks on, but it’s basically like you’re muzzled from ever being able to tell anything bad that might happen to you. My bill is very narrow because I want to get both sides on it. It is eradicating forced-arbitration clauses for harassment and assault in the workplace. That’s it. I believe you shouldn’t be using them for race discrimination or for gender discrimination or age discrimination or LGBTQ discrimination as well. I’ll get there, but first, we’re tackling harassment and assault. The great news, Zibby, is that I’ve seen this transformation over the last five years even with members of congress in becoming much more in tune with this issue and becoming much more open with trying to solve it. The first time I introduced the bill in the house and the senate, bipartisan, at the end of 2017, it never really went anywhere. Then we had the whole Trump situation, which didn’t help this issue.

Exciting news that we reintroduced it in the house and the senate in July. Now it’s gotten out of both the senate judiciary committee and the house judiciary committee in bipartisan fashion. This is huge news because bills stay alive by getting through committee. Now it’s going to go to the floor of the senate and the floor of the house. I spent much of the last six months on the phone or in person with members of congress trying to get them on board. I’m happy to report that I’m almost there to assure that this passes. I would just tell you that this will be the biggest labor law change in the last one hundred years. It will take women’s issues out of the shadows of secrecy for millions of women out there. I often say, when people introduce me and they say, you were this and you were that, I’m like, yeah, but you know what, the most important thing that I will ever do in my life other than having my children is passing this legislation. This will be my greatest life achievement. Then I’ll move on to trying to do it for more disenfranchised groups. It’s just really, really important that this gets done so that we actually tackle this issue by talking about it and taking it out of the shadows.

Zibby: The regular person at home, how we can help get this through?

Gretchen: Thank you. First of all, women do not call their members of congress by a margin of ten to one. Men do. We have to realize that our voice is important. Every voice counts. Especially in whatever state you live in, when you call your member of congress, they pay attention because you are their constituent. Please call them or write them and say that you support Senate Bill 2342 and House Bill 4445. Exact same language. They have different numbers in different chambers. Say that you support that. We also got sixty-five organizations around the country from domestic violence to harassment to assault to also sign onto the bill. I got hundreds, even thousands, of individual survivors to sign on as well. I’m telling you that makes a difference. When members of congress look down and they see, oh, my gosh, there’s twenty people from Idaho who signed this letter for Gretchen Carlson, they pay attention because those are their voters. Please email your members of congress or call them about a lot of issues, but especially about this one.

Zibby: That’s so interesting. I’ve never called a member of congress.

Gretchen: It’s really easy now. You can email them. It’s really important that men should not be the only voice. One of my favorite quotes in life happens to be anonymous, but it is, one woman makes a difference, but together, we rock the world. That’s what I think about every morning when I get up, whether it’s trying to pass my legislation or the way in which I raise my kids or getting my nonprofit off the ground or doing my podcast or going down to work for PeopleTV on television. Whatever it is, yeah, one woman, we all can make a difference, but when we decide we’re going to get together and be vocal, that’s when we really change the world.

Zibby: It’s so inspiring. I love it, oh, my gosh. You’re a total role model for advocating and going out and doing it. It’s amazing. We need more people like you to be getting us all together. It’s really amazing. Can you share what happened? Are you even allowed now? You must because you filed the lawsuit and everything. Can you share publicly what the sexual harassment incident was that set you off on this whole path? No?

Gretchen: No. I am silenced by an incredibly stringent NDA. There have been movies made about my story, Bombshell. There was a whole Showtime miniseries, The Loudest Voice, made about my story. I could not participate. I can’t even tell you if they were accurate or not. All I can say is that, wow, the idea that when I was crying my eyes out filing this lawsuit not knowing what was going to happen to me in the next minute, hour, day, the idea that two amazing actresses like Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman, who are best friends in life by the way, that they would portray my story, what? I do have to take the above-board approach to it even though I couldn’t participate in that just saying wow for that; number two, that they even wanted to do movies and miniseries about harassment. Before this, nobody gave a damn. Then number three, that even if one woman was inspired to come forward as a result of those projects, then that makes it worth it. Someday, I would like to own my own voice. That’s why I’m working so hard to make sure that future women and my children own their own voices. We’ve made massive strides in a short period of time. A lot of women now are saying, I’m not going to sign that NDA anymore. A lot of women are breaking their NDAs. No, I can’t tell you my eleven years of hell at Fox.

All I can say — this is how I have to go in overdrive all the time with my brain because I have to think three times as hard as anyone else about, what can I say going up to the line that will still be in good standing with my NDA? That is that when I finally realized that a career that I killed myself for after thirty years, that that was going to be taken away from me and it wasn’t my choice, that’s when I decided to jump off the cliff. Look, courage, it’s not an easy process. Something like this or anything else that your listeners are going through in their own personal lives, it’s not like you suddenly just decide one day to do it. Courage is not like walking into a room and flipping on a light switch and saying, hey, I’m here. It’s years in my case, years of building up the courage. I know people can relate to that about other things they’re struggling with in their lives. I just hope that and I know I’ve encouraged so many other people to do the same thing. Inadvertently, I ignited this movement. I’m just so proud that other people have found the courage to come forward. We must stop silencing women. Even though I may never own my own personal story, I want to make sure that other people own theirs.

Zibby: How did it affect — this is totally personal. You don’t have to answer. I know you’re married to a sports agent. You had some funny line about dealing with his big-deal career or something like that. How do you navigate your marriage when there’s some sort of sexual thing going on at work? Especially, this has become a mission for you to eradicate this for everybody else, which is amazing. In the most personal areas, how do you navigate?

Gretchen: It’s a great question. I would just say that I didn’t discuss it a lot at home. My mom was really my sounding board. I didn’t tell my mom everything at the beginning because how women are made to feel is that it’s your fault. I didn’t even trust my own self to tell my mom what was going on because I didn’t want to be judged, which is what happens to women, even our own moms. We’ve been socialized to feel embarrassed about these things, to not admit what they really are, to not speak up about them. Other women have told us not to speak up about them. I didn’t share a lot of it with my husband. I never shared it with my agent. Finally, I started telling my parents. Finally, I started telling my husband. I don’t think it’s a good recipe for great relationship at home to always be discussing what’s happening to you at work that’s horrible. I would also, though, say that they ended up being my biggest support system. No matter how old you are, I think you always want your parents to be proud of you and to agree with the decisions that you’re making in your adult life. One of the biggest decision-making points for me in coming forward was when my parents finally got on board and agreed that I should sue. Growing up in Minnesota, there’s that Minnesota-nice thing. People don’t really think about suing people all the time. I think my parents had to get over that hurdle.

I remember distinctly, sitting in the mudroom in my house. My parents called me, both on the phone together. It was very emotional. We all cried. They said, “We’re with you.” That was at least six months before I actually did it. Then my husband was very, very supportive. Then I would just say that in the final moments, I told my children the night before and looked into their eyes and hoped that I was doing the right thing for them and worried so much about how it was going to impact them. I’ll tell you these five years later that my kids have really, really surprised me about how contagious courage is. They’ve got it. I’ve seen it play out in — my daughter was having some trouble at school with some kids. Six months after my story, she came home and she said, “Mom, I finally told this one that. I told the other one this.” She said, “Mommy, I did it because I saw you do it.” That just made me break down and realize, wow, this courage moved to her. My son, in the same way after I had done this CNN town hall once talking about these issues, I came home and he was waiting for me. He looked at me and he said, “Mom, is it true what that other woman on TV said with you that once every seventy-three seconds that a woman is assaulted or harassed in our country? Mom, is that true?” I said, “I’m so sorry to tell you, honey, that that is true.” He looked at me with tears in his eyes. He said, “Mom, as a young man, I want to do my part to fix that.”

Again, I hugged him so hard. I thought, you know what, if it’s only these two souls that I have moved to change, it’s been worth it, but I know now that it’s so much greater. I still see it playing out in my kids. When they see my issues come up, whether it’s on a debate for president of the United States where they actually asked about NDAs finally, my kids were cheering with me in the kitchen. They hear something on TV. They’ll look over at me and they’ll be like, “All right, I know how Mom feels about this. Now I know how I feel about this.” They become really educated on it. I think most importantly for my son, one of the biggest untold stories in all of this is how we need to make sure we get to our sons with this information. They form their opinions about women early on. We’re probably not going to change a bunch of older CEOs out there. Although, I have hope. We’re really going to change our young boys. When they become, and women, become the next general counsel and CEOs of companies, we want to arm them with the information of respecting women because then they will not force women into silence with these clauses. They’ll also pay them fairly and promote them and put them in the boardroom. I think it’s one of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned. Getting to our boys and to our men and inviting them into the conversation is huge.

Zibby: I totally agree. First of all, it’s not true that you’ve only impacted those two souls, but I know what you mean. If every mother did that, that would be everybody. What better grassroots marketing is that, having everybody tell their own kids? It’s a pretty powerful play in and of itself, what we teach our children. That sounds so obvious.

Gretchen: I’ve found myself changing the way I parent since my story. I watch the words that I say. We use a lot of words in our society that inadvertently puts women in their place. We raise our girls to be perfectionists, unfortunately, to color inside the lines. We raise our boys to be risk takers. We got to try and change that part of it. Also, I don’t know if it’s a Midwestern thing or everyone does it, but we call it everyone guys. I’m guilty of that. My daughter said to me a couple of years ago, “Mom, why do you always call me a guy? I’m a girl.” I was like, “You know what? You’re right.” Also, one thing that women do all the time — I know once I say this, you’re going to think about this every time you do it. That’s why I say it, because I hope you do. We apologize and say I’m sorry about fifty times a day. When you walk into a door and somebody is coming towards you, you go, oh, I’m sorry, even though you have no guilt at all. I don’t know who was supposed to go out of the door first, but don’t say you’re sorry. You’re not sorry for anything. You’re just coming into a door or you’re leaving a door. I find myself telling my daughter this all the time. She’ll say, “Oh, sorry, Mom.” I’m like, “Unless you’ve done something that you legitimately want to say sorry for, take that back.” As women, we have to stop being — I know we’re treated sometimes as a second-class citizen, but we have to stop playing into it and take our power back and be like, I’m not going to say I’m sorry for walking through a door. Catch yourself. If you’re listening now, I know you’re going to catch yourself today. Try and get out of the cycle and stop saying I’m sorry.

Zibby: It’s so funny you said that because literally yesterday I was emailing someone on my team about this manuscript that I hadn’t really liked but other people had liked. I started it and I was like, “I’m sorry, but…” Then literally, I stopped. I was like, why am I sorry? I’m not sorry. This is how I feel about it. Then I went back and I deleted it. I just started, “I’m going to pass on this because…” I was channeling the you. I have been trying to catch myself, so it’s so funny you say that right now.

Gretchen: If I ever have my husband look over something I’ve written or vice versa, his emails are so much more to the point. I might say, I’m really hoping that you’d like to come to this event. No. I’d like you to come to this event. This is the way we’ve been socialized. Unfortunately, this is the way society looks at us, which is why owning these issues like harassment and assault have been so hard coming because we’ve been told to push them down deep inside of ourselves and never talk about it ever again. Therefore, that’s why we’re sorry for everything. We have to start being more forthright. Get over that bossy hurdle where somebody thinks you’re bossy. Screw that. No, we’re not being bossy. We’re just being like the guy next door that’s asking for the same promotion or the same raise in pay. The more that we all start doing that and get out of the mold, the more that we won’t be singled out as being the bossy, aggressive woman.

Zibby: Before we go, just to take this to the totally mundane, you started before we even recorded, asking me how my workouts were going. I’m wondering, what is your workout regimen? What do you do?

Gretchen: I was a chubby kid. I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life. I know so many people have struggled with that. I still struggle with food. I use it as my reward system. My body loves to carry weight. Look, I come from great Swedish stock. My whole family was farmers. The women were all tough. They also had no curves because it was just straight down. Genetically, my body likes to be hefty. I used to have nightmares when I was in junior high and you had to run that 440 race, get a presidential medal or something. I don’t know if you guys remember that. I didn’t sleep for months because I was so worried, number one, I wouldn’t finish it, and number two, I’d be dead last. Just like other things in my life, I had to retool my brain to actually start working out. I will say, I will give credit to the Miss America because that was one thing that jumpstarted me to really, really, really get into shape. I’ll never be that thin ever again, by the way. I’m not advocating for anyone to be that thin. I’m just saying that it did jumpstart me. I became a runner.

From going to not sleeping for months to run the 440 to running five, six miles a day was a huge personal accomplishment for me. It just really made feel better about myself. My hips started giving out when I turned forty, so I don’t run anymore. I do believe that working out is a huge stress-reliever for me. I do it mostly for my mind. One thing that I’ve really gotten into since my story broke, especially for my mind, is Pilates. I really think it’s important for women to stretch so that we don’t get that hunched-over look as we get older. Sit up straight, I’m constantly reminding myself of that. Pilates helps you to strength those little, tiny muscles that you never even thought about. Then for me, it strengthens my brain because it’s quiet time just for Gretchen for an hour. I get so much power out of that. It’s kind of a dual purpose. Then yes, I still do my cardio because I really believe that’s the only way to try to keep your weight in check if that’s something that you’re thinking about. I do it because my favorite hobby is to eat and drink chardonnay. I really want to be able to keep that all in moderation. It’s mainly for my psyche. I hope that that’s why other people work out, is for their psyche.

Zibby: My greatest hobby is to eat as well.

Gretchen: We’ll have to get together and eat.

Zibby: I would love to, and some chardonnay. That sounds great. We can compare our favorite brands. What are you reading now? Last question. Just wondering. Actually, two last questions. I keep going over. I’m sorry. I have so much to ask you. What are you reading now? Then what advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Gretchen: Oh, my gosh. Let me start with the aspiring authors. I just really believe that if you think that you have a story, that you do. So many people come to me and they’re like, I’m not really sure if anyone will care about this, or whatever. Just start writing it down. You and I were talking earlier before about how I think it’s actually easier sometimes to write a book than to actually market it and sell it. Just sit down and start. One of the things that I found to be really helpful was that I just spoke. I just spoke into recordings. That really helped me to be more like William Faulkner and have stream-of-consciousness thinking. Oftentimes, that helps me to develop ideas rather than sitting there — I think sometimes when we go in front of our laptop, we’re like, this has to be perfect, and you have to worry about grammar and all that. No. That’s not the way we speak. It’s, frankly, not the way we do TV, which kind of helped me to do this. Speak your story. Just speak your story if you think you have a good idea. Start by recording it in that way. It will translate all for you. That’s how I got my start both times when I wrote my book. With regard to what I’m reading now, I’m reading David Rubenstein’s The American Experiment. I had a chance to interview him on my podcast. This latest book, he talks about people that really paved the way to make change in society, which is something that I like. What I did was I’m focusing on the female stories in his book, so whether it’s Billie Jean King, who really paved the way that way, or Madeleine Albright, who was secretary of state, of course, that’s always inspired to me. When I look for books now, I look for guilty pleasures too that are just fun, but I also look for other inspiration to keep me going on my path too.

Zibby: How can listeners listen to your podcast? How can they find you and all of that?

Gretchen: I’m on It’s called Get the News with Gretchen Carlson. It’s just straight-down-the-middle headlines, eight to ten headlines a day. I really felt like the nation needed it because people don’t know where to go just to get the truth. Also, I’m on PeopleTV, so My nonprofit is Everyone has a stake in this, so please check that out. My two books are Getting Real and Be Fierce.

Zibby: Amazing. I am so inspired by you. I’m so glad we talked. I’m going to be rooting for everything and following along and just so excited.

Gretchen: Thank you for having me, Zibby. I want to do a shout-out to you too taking a risk and being brave. You’re a great role model for other women by starting your own company and this podcast, which has just blown up. You just never know. I always say to women, write down those five things on a post-it note that you’ve been meaning to do but you haven’t done yet. Look at them every day. One day, you’re going to be inspired to do it, whether it’s listening to this podcast or to any other or reading a book, and finally tackle those things that you’ve been wanting to do. Look at what can happen when you do that. You’re a shining example of that. My life right now is a shining example of that. You can do it.

Zibby: Thank you. Yes, together. Thank you. Stay in touch. Here’s to chardonnay another time.

Gretchen: Thanks, Zibby. We’ll have the chardonnay and good meal.

BE FIERCE by Gretchen Carlson

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