2017 Honoree

Hilarie Burton

Actor, Producer

“When I read these articles about women who are so innovative and so brave, that’s exciting for me. I think that being loud and proud and very vocal about the women who are in those positions will inspire young women to aspire to be that and demand it. I think that we need to be our own hype man, Hype women.”

In your opinion, what qualities make a Power Woman?

I think empathy and compassion are very important qualities for a Power Woman to have. I think the ability to place yourself in someone else’s shoes, whether that’s an ally or an enemy, makes you a lot stronger. You connect with the person or group that you’re trying to work with. And yes, communication is power. So, I would say empathy is very important.

With all of the different issues one could focus on, how do you balance your efforts in pursuit of gender equality?

Wow. I would say for so long I’ve always been a people-pleaser. And I think most women are. We’re raised to be pleasing and agreeable. And I don’t think you have to be disagreeable to prove your point. For example, recently I was doing a job and was not offered a lot of money. Rather than stomp my feet about it, I just went to my boss and I explained to him why I needed to be paid more. I was under the assumption that that would put an end to the job and, in fact, it was the exact opposite. He went and lobbied for me to get a raise larger than even what I asked for. I think just that honesty, I think being very clear about what your expectations are is important. I think rather than women saying vaguely, “I want more, what will you give me?” But instead saying, “this is what I deserve and this is what I’m worth.” I think that we build it up in our heads that the answer’s “no” before we even ask. The idea that we would have to creep back into the background…and I grew up a religious Southern woman, and even with that background I can’t justify it. There was nothing in my upbringing that suggested women shouldn’t be in control of their own bodies. If you go from a biblical standpoint, Christ loved women. He hung out with a lot of them! And he would not agree with the oppression of them at all.

In what way do you work for women’s power and equality and what do you think is the number one action we as a society can take to have a more affirmative action for women?

I think it starts with raising girls who aren’t people-pleasers, we aren’t apologetic. I read a really great article recently by a woman who said: “I stopped saying I’m sorry. Don’t say I’m sorry for messing this up. Say, thank you for understanding.” I think in raising daughters, and sons–I have a seven-year-old son–I talk to him about misogyny. We recently saw a production of Phantom of the Opera, and both Raul and Phantom were grabbing Christine’s arm and growling in her face and I had to explain to my son afterwards that girls don’t like that. That’s not appropriate behavior. It’s about finding those teachable moments. As important as it is for our girls to grow up empowered, it’s important for our boys to grow up and see them as total equals. And, if you ask my son, he’ll tell you I’m the boss. I stopped asking permission. There was a free moment when we left Los Angeles where I felt I had to wear makeup everywhere I went, and be pleasing, and sit there, and dress like the other girls in LA dress. I never fit there. And when we came out here to the country, it didn’t matter. I’d never run a store before, but when the candy store, when Ira died, it was OK we’re going to do this. We’re just going to figure this out. When we decided to move to a farm, it was OK we’re going to figure this out. When I speak with young women, it is very important for me to articulate to them that you will figure it out. With Astor, I don’t have a PhD. I don’t have a degree in child psychology or any of the requirements to go in and run it there. But, I know how to decorate a kid’s room. It’s about figuring it out and being different. Leading by example is important to me. As someone who doesn’t necessarily do a lot of PR, it’s important to me. I was always said: “Don’t tell people who you are, show them who you are.” Because, usually, if someone’s like, “Oh I’m a tomboy,” or “Oh, I’m a cheerleader,” they’re projecting. That’s not really who they are. It’s about leading by example and showing. As I grow up in this business, I want to work with women directors. I want to make those requests. Mary Stuart Masterson has worked really hard to instill a sense of that here in the Hudson Valley. We have an opportunity to bring in women writers and women directors. I really look to other women who have done the same thing. It’s about jumping in, feet first, and leading by example.

Do you think that asking for a previous salary requirement contributes to the pay gap between women and men? New York State recently outlawed this practice. Should we push for a nationwide ban?

Absolutely. Without a doubt. I know from personal experience how many friends of mine went into low-paying jobs out of college so they could gain really wonderful experience, whether that was working in D.C., or in a powerful firm in New York City. That’s part of being a young person and learning. But, that is so different than when you go into applying for a job and you’re accomplished. That’s a gross practice. I’ve been accused of being a difficult party sometimes. In the film industry, it’s written. It’s a quote, it’s on record. And, when you’re offered a job, they work off of your last quote. But, you have to hire a whole team of people to convince the production why you’re worth more. It’s a lifelong struggle. As a woman, you work your quota up in your twenties when you’re all young and cute, and then you hit this weird spot where you’re not quite old enough to play the mom parts yet, but you’re too old to play the young girl parts and then your quota goes all the way back down to where it was when you began. And then you have to work your quota back up through the grandma years. It’s a lifelong struggle for women in the entertainment industry, for sure.

Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today?

I was very very lucky that my parents always put my brothers’ and my interests above their own. My parents didn’t go out on dinner dates with friends. They didn’t go out and party. They didn’t go to the bowling club. My parents coached Little League and did all of my school plays. When I was in sixth grade, I got accepted to a theater program at the Kennedy Center in D.C. and that was the first time I really felt professional. I was an ostracized kid in elementary school because I was weird and it was the first time I had adults telling me that I was gifted and that my talents would take me places and they were helping me train. The Kennedy Center was a very big deal for me. Performing there was a very big deal for me. And, as a congratulations, my parents purchased a seat for me in the National Theater. I was only eleven, but they put on this little plaque: “To Hilarie, our future star of tomorrow.” It was their steadfast assurance that I was going to make things happen for myself that I just never doubted it. It was unwavering. It was like, “Oh yeah, this is my path. OK, I’ll figure it out.” It was that sixth grade year and those two theaters. The women in particular I got to work with there, with their caftans and long beads, I wanted to be just like them. And I looked at myself in the mirror the other day and I was wearing exactly that.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

My dad is someone who came from extreme, extreme poverty. My father didn’t have indoor plumbing until he was 16 years old. What he made for his life was always very inspiring to me. He would always say: “The want to, creates the how to.” As long as you want something bad enough, you will figure out how to do it. And I look back now at things I thought I wanted, but I didn’t put any effort into those things. And I can say now, I didn’t really want them. The things that I actually wanted in my life and put a lot of effort into it, I have them.

There are many studies that have supported the idea that female presence in the boardroom increases the bottom line. What can we do to enhance the growth of women in high-profile positions?

I think social media has been really helpful for that. Before, we didn’t know who was vice president at a tech company. Now, at the click of a button, we can promote that information—-not only to each other, but to young women. I didn’t know how many women there were working in Silicon Valley. When I read these articles about women who are so innovative and so brave, that’s exciting for me. I think that being loud and proud and very vocal about the women who are in those positions will inspire young women to aspire to be that and demand it. I think that we need to be our own hype man. Hype women.I think because we are a more global community because of social media, and certainly within the United States, it’s an open forum. It’s like having millions of sisters. “I can tease you a little bit but no one can say anything else about you ever!” The sisterhood is strong.

Who do you most admire and why?

Ray Bradbury has always been a person I really relate to. Never had a college education, just went to the public library. Really believed in the public library system. Was an idea person. Was innovator and inclusive and wrote about a future that he didn’t want to see to warn people. Forward thinking is something I really admired about him. Ray Bradbury is just a hero.

If you had a favorite book, what would that be?

It’s actually a Ray Bradbury book. He wrote a lot of very famous science fiction novels. I love the sciences, and as a child I was very drawn to him. When other girls had pictures of boy bands on their walls, I had a picture of Ray Bradbury holding a cat. And he wrote a book called Dandelion Wine, which was a nostalgic look at his childhood growing up in middle America. There are female characters that I fell in love with as a kid.

What is your favorite place on Earth and why?

I would have to say the farm here. We have a farm here in the Hudson Valley, a 100-acre farm. And this is where Jeffrey and my son and I get to hide and be our most authentic selves and get dirty. The memories that we have here with our son, even there are more to come, the memories we have here are just everything. I would definitely have to say the farm.

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