Gretchen Carlson addressed ICBA bankers on March 16, where she shared her story of growing up in Anoka, Minn., learning to play the violin, watching her father lose the family car dealership and her mother win it back. The 1989 Miss America pageant winner became a television news reporter for CBS, a news anchor in Cincinnati, and eventually a Fox News contributor.
Carlson tells a great story, seems very reasonable, and if she ran for president I would probably vote for her. She lamented the partisanship in Washington, D.C., citing the debate over guns as an example. Identifying herself as an independent, Carlson said her position on guns is highly nuanced, just as it is for most Americans. She supports the second amendment but said she has children in school and she wants them to be safe. It’s not an “all-or-nothing issue,” she said, the way it plays out in Congress and in the media.
In fact, most issues are not all-or-nothing. The rhetoric describing issues in reductive terms is not typically helpful. Carlson spoke the day after the Senate passed S. 2155, which was ardently supported by the banking industry. Prior to the vote, there was rhetoric circulating on social media along the lines of: “If you are against S. 2155, you’re against community banks and the communities they support.” This magazine and I are fervent supporters of regulatory relief for banks, but I am not sure these kinds of social media posts are helpful. In my own state of Minnesota, both Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar voted against S. 2155 and yet I trust they support community banks and Minnesota’s communities. They needed to be persuaded and were clearly looking for something more compelling than a divisive tweet.
Carlson, the victim of well-publicized sexual harassment, is advocating for legislation which would outlaw mandatory mediation clauses in employment contracts. She said employees who are harassed deserve their time in front of a jury. The mediation clause, she said, is a way for perpetrators to keep their foibles out of the spotlight.
Mandatory arbitration clauses have their problems. No lawyer would advise a client to sign a contract requiring the signer give up their right to sue. This issue came up in banking a couple of years ago when the CFPB was threatening to pass rules forbidding banks from including mandatory arbitration clauses in financial contracts. The banking industry prevailed on that issue, but I have to believe only the very largest banks were worried about this. Do community banks regularly demand customers sign away their right to sue? I don’t believe this is happening.
Carlson shared upsetting details about the sexual harassment she has suffered — people calling her all kinds of insulting names, grabbing and pushing her. These aren’t the kinds of stories we typically hear at banking conventions. But these are different times and there is a new national conversation about appropriate workplace behavior underway. This magazine ran a story about the #MeToo movement in March. The subject came up in one of the breakout sessions at the ICBA convention. An attorney encouraged a banker in the audience who asked a question about sexual harassment to take the subject seriously and make sure the bank has a policy to handle it. These days, it seems like more than a policy is needed, as solid a start as that may be. My general sense watching the industry across the board is that bankers, like so many other professionals, really don’t know what to do with this issue. Why is this difficult? Respect should not be a foreign concept.