Attorney and law professor Anita Hill, a trailblazer in raising public awareness of sexual harassment nearly three decades ago, issued a call to action after allegations of sexual misconduct have, in recent weeks, toppled a growing roster of powerful men in Hollywood.
Hill on Wednesday participated in a keynote conversation moderated by activist and television host Chelsea Handler at Variety‘s Inclusion Summit. The event comes just a month after the New York Times and New Yorker first published their blockbuster reports exposing decades of sexual misbehavior by disgraced studio mogul Harvey Weinstein.
In the weeks since, a litany of men — directors, showrunners, studio executives, talent agents, and others — have faced allegations of behaving inappropriately. Across the entertainment industry, a groundswell has formed as Hollywood grapples with how to improve the climate for vulnerable men and women.
“We are making change,” Hill said. “It’s not instant and there won’t be one tipping point, there will be many,” adding that nonetheless this movement “is monumental.”
Addressing a roomful of Hollywood decision makers, Hill called for the implementation of policies and procedures with teeth. Complaints, Hill said, shouldn’t fall into a black hole and left to languish. “If you have any kind of status that allows you to make change, use it,” she said.
She chastised corporate payouts to accused sexual harassers, notably Fox News founder Roger Ailes, who received $40 million in severance pay.
“When you have this kind of evidence — and it sounds even silly to say — a huge payoff is not appropriate,” Hill said. “These are not only bad ethical and legal decisions — they’re bad business decisions.”
Addressing the hundreds of women who have come forward to accuse powerful men of misbehavior, Hill lamented that not much progress has been made in how accusers are treated when making allegations public.
“One of the things that really is troubling to me,” Hill said, is that “it still takes about 30 women to come forward before one woman is believed.”
She added: “Our word is as valuable as the word of our abusers.”
Hill first became known to the country in 1991 when she alleged that then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her when she worked for him at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Education.
Images of Hill’s testimony before an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee became iconic and revealed the great gender imbalance in Congress. Thomas was nonetheless confirmed, and in the wake of her testimony, women ran for office in droves.
Despite the intense media scrutiny that dogged Hill in the early 1990s, she was adamant it was worth it.
“It was the right thing to do. I had a voice. I had an opportunity,” Hill said. “No matter how difficult it has been, at the time and since then, I would do it again.”