Anita Hill Describes the Red Flags for Sexual Harassment

  • Trump attempts to ‘normalize predatory behavior,’ she says
  • Law professor recommends companies use independent audits
Anita Hill: Trump Language Attempts to Normalize Behavior

Anita Hill, one of the first women to publicly accuse a powerful man of sexual harassment, criticized President Donald Trump, saying his language “makes an attempt to normalize predatory behavior.”

Corporate leaders can learn an important lesson from Trump’s dismissal of accusations of sexual harassment, Hill said Wednesday at Bloomberg’s “Year Ahead” conference in New York. “If you have an individual -- whether it’s a president of the United States or somebody in your organization -- who feels entitled to do whatever they want to whomever they want, because they’re in that position of power, then that is your red flag.”

Companies need be able to identify and quash that behavior, she went on: “It won’t just begin and end with sexual harassment. It will be all kinds of behavior. It can be bullying. It can be other forms of discrimination -- racial discrimination, homophobia -- in the workplace."

Hill became a national figure in 1991 when she testified publicly that Clarence Thomas, then a Supreme Court nominee, had sexually harassed her while he was her boss at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Thomas denied the accusations, was confirmed and remains a Supreme Court justice.

“There has been progress,” said Hill, who is now a law professor at Brandeis University. “If you read anything in the papers in the past few weeks, you know that there has not been enough progress.”

She said that while more than 90 percent of companies today have some anti-harassment policies, “if the culture doesn’t support them, no one takes the policies seriously.”

Hill, who advises on workplace discrimination for Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll, told Bloomberg News Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait that the Trump presidency has raised awareness among women. She cited the Women’s March on Washington last year as well as the #metoo hashtag women are using on social media to draw attention to their own experiences with harassment in the workplace.

Corporations are mistaken if they think that, because they have yet to face accusations, they don’t have a problem, Hill said. “It’s just a matter of time before something happens in just about any company,” she said, pointing to scandals at Fox News, Uber and Google. “It’s in everybody’s interest to try to be proactive.”

Those steps might include broadening the concept of a supervisor beyond the law’s narrow definition that restricts it to someone who has complete control over an employee’s hiring, firing and pay, Hill said.

She also recommended getting outside independent groups to poll staff about harassment, rather than doing internal investigations. When allegations arise, management needs to be prepared to act swiftly and decisively, and to fire even top managers, she said.

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