3654339SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – Anita Hill and Ellen Pao became symbols of a movement to fight against workplace sexual harassment, 26 years apart. For the first time, they took the stage together at a special event hosted by the Kapor Center for Social Impact.
“I knew that anyone who acts and believes that he is above the law should not be the final adjudicator of the law,” said Hill, who publicly testified against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
In 1991, the 35-year-old law professor sat before an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee and recounted how he allegedly harassed her. Thomas landed a spot on the court.
Fast forward to modern day Silicon Valley. Ellen Pao spoke of her decision to sue one of the world’s most powerful venture capital firms for gender discrimination.
“When it was about me I thought ‘I’ll just work harder, I’ll do better, I’ll take all this feedback and I will adjust,'” Pao recalled. “But when I saw that it was clearly happening to other women in the firm, and there was this harassment element to it, I felt that somebody had to be held accountable.”
In the end, she lost her court battle against Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers.
Both women said they went through periods of blaming themselves.
“Understand that you are not the problem, that there may be things that can be fixed but in some situations like yours, you’re not going to be able to fix it internally,” Hill said.
Pao said in tech there has been a start to what’s called bystander or allies training to help change toxic company cultures.
“When you can have somebody else step in and say, Hey, this is the tenth time we’ve had Ellen go get the coffee or go get the Xeroxes, maybe we should be spreading around that work,'” Pao said.
Hill also said on stage that no one would have guessed a month ago that Fox News host Bill O’Reilly would be fired, but pressures from advertisers and the public became too strong. She urged anyone dealing with sexual harassment or discrimination to keep pushing.