In her fight to end sexual harassment, Anita Hill — who became a national figure in 1991 when she accused U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during his Senate confirmation — is providing major resources to put a stop to harassment in Hollywood.
The Hollywood Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality, founded by Kathleen Kennedy and Nina Shaw and led by Hill, has released its results of a survey of nearly 10,000 workers in the entertainment industry.
In addition to releasing survey results, the commission has announced a new platform that will help identify repeat offenders of sexual harassment, which Hill is hopeful will be utilized by major networks, studios and companies across the industry.
Hill — who was named chair of the commission in 2017 in the wake of the #MeToo movement, sparked by allegations against Harvey Weinstein — says stories of sexual abuse in Hollywood helped open the floodgates and start a conversation, but now the industry needs firm data to take the proper next steps necessary to create real change.
“The industry needs the numbers. Everybody needs to know exactly what is going on,” Hill tells Variety. “The more information we can provide, the better we will be able to come up with solutions together. People in power have the ability to make change. We’ve already noticed some change, but this information allows us to really focus on where are the most important areas of concern and what kind of structures need to be put in place to deal with this idea of the lack of accountability in the industry.”
The national, anonymous survey was conducted online between November 2019 and February 2020 with both men and women participating. Individuals of all levels participated in the industry-wide study, in order to accurately represent a wide range of workers.
The key findings of the study deal with accountability, the abuse of power, the difficulty of reporting harassment and retaliation. The study found that people of color and younger employees were among the most vulnerable workers in Hollywood.
In regards to accountability, the majority of workers do not believe that those in positions of power are held accountable for harassment. 45% of men believe someone in a position of power would be held accountable, while only 28% of women hold that same belief.
“What we learned from the men about accountability is that in just about every category of men, fewer than 50% believe that people in authority or people who are powerful in the industry will be found accountable if they are found to be harassed. With women, biracial woman are the most pessimistic about the accountability of people who are harassing,” Hills explains. “I think all of those are interesting numbers, but what it says in total is that overall, in the industry, workers have a very different view of accountability.”
She adds, “50% of men believe there isn’t accountability, but 50% also don’t think there is anything wrong — which is troubling.”
In regards to the abuse of power within the industry, the study found that the inequity of power perpetuates the lack of accountability with less than half (48%) of workers noting progress, since the #MeToo movement launched in the fall of 2017. Primary offenders in Hollywood are in powerful positions, meaning the can influence who is getting hired (55%), who gets to keep their job (59%) and have the ability to damage the reputations of those who complain about harassment (59%).
Reporting harassment is one of the biggest challenges, the study found, with only 23% of sexual harassment victims sharing their experience with a supervisor and a far lower statistic formally reporting harassment with only 9% reporting to Human Resources and just 4% reporting to the legal department at their workplace.
“Enough people feel that not enough is going to happen, if you do something bad, and that includes people who are inclined to do something bad, as well as people who are trying to stop people from doing things that are bad,” Hill says.
Supporting coworkers is also a challenge, as retaliation was found to be one of the biggest fears with systemic, cultural harassment in the workplace. The survey found that witness were even more fearful of retaliation than the actual victims, and therefore, reluctant to report abuse of their coworkers because they did not believe any action would be taken. The fear of retaliation was supported by the study with 41% of respondents reporting that they did in fact experience some form of retaliation.
In response to the survey results, the commission will be launching a platform to help report serial offenders, and will also be investing in virtual and in-person bystander training.
The platform, which is currently being developed, will collect information and complaints filed, so that repeat offenders will be identified through matching technology in the system. The information will then be sent to designated organizations, like major film studios.
“The person identifies who they say has been victimizing them and then it goes into an account and if there is a match, there will be a trigger, so hopefully that will help us identify serial abusers,” Hill explains. “Some of them might not rise to the level of a harassment complaint, but they may be behaviors that the research tells us can lead to harassment or sexual assault, if they’re not addressed.”
With this information, the commission can advise different organizations about what is happening at their company. “We hope it will be a game changer,” she says.
Hill is hopeful that the information will actually be utilized by major corporations in Hollywood. She says she has been meeting on a weekly basis with partners across the industry, throughout the pandemic.
“Not one person from a studio has said that they don’t want to adopt it. They wouldn’t be coming to these meetings,” she shares. “I do trust our partners who will be opting into this system to get the information, take it seriously, and then do what they do.”
Looking back three decades, since she testified against Thomas, Hill believes society’s view on sexual harassment in the workplace is finally changing, though at a slow pace.
“I’m always hopeful, and I know things have changed — but I am absolutely sure that not enough has changed,” Hill says.
“The survey shows that things have changed, even in the last year, there has been improvement, but not enough,” Hill continues. “We need to build those changes and the changing ways of thinking into our structures and into our cultures in our workplaces, and that just takes time. It takes a lot of concerted effort, and that’s what we’re doing.”
For the full survey results, go to hollywoodcommission.org.