2017 Honoree

Sunny Hostin

ABC News Senior Legal Correspondent & Co-Host, The View

“…voting. I think it’s despicable so many people sat out this past election. So many people fought for our right to vote and I remember my grandmother, who is almost bed-ridden, made sure she voted. When you sit out you have no right to complain about anything that’s going on.”

In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?

Confidence, fearlessness, authenticity and humility. Often women try to ‘dull their shine’ and, in an effort to make men more comfortable, are subservient not only in position, but also view point. We never want to offend. Those actions take your power from you. I try to be an example to my daughter and to other women that it’s ok to own your strengths, own your weaknesses and be powerful. It’s not a dirty word anymore for women.

With all the different issues one could focus on, how do you balance your efforts in pursuit of gender equality? Is it a global approach or a specific issue that you are passionate about?

As an attorney, I am most passionate about the legal rights of women and children. It’s something that I’ve often worked on, not only as a lawyer because I worked on cases involving sex crimes against women and children, domestic violence against women and children, I also do it in my charitable work. I’m on the board for Safe Horizons and I work on child advocacy issues because women are under assault, which directly affect the lives of their children. I try to do what I can do locally because I feel it’s the most impactful I can be in my community.

If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?

I would love to switch places with Justice Sotomayor because she is one of my idols. I would love to be in the room where the decisions are made. To quote Hamilton, “I’d love to be in the room where it happens.” What most people don’t realize is that every decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court, affects our everyday lives. A justice on the Supreme Court has immeasurable power.

Why do you think women’s reproductive rights are under attack? Globally it seems women’s health and security are under such attack; from religion, to cultural attitudes, to lax government protection, women are more vulnerable than ever. What policies would you propose that the US government pursue (or change) to alter this?

I think it’s pretty clear that this administration is somewhat hostile to women’s rights. Some would disagree with that because the administration has some high profile women, but I think that it’s pretty clear when you have a room full of men making decisions about women’s healthcare, we may regress in terms of women’s rights. I don’t think we are going to see a rolling back of Roe v. Wade, but I think state to state, four or eight years from now, we’re going to be in a very different place as women. More women need to be involved politically. We must run for office.

Are you involved in politics at the local or national level? Why or why not? In what way do you work for women’s power and equality? What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take (e.g. affirmative action)?

I’m not involved in politics now. I’ve had a quasi-political position because I was a federal prosecutor with the Department of Justice. You can be a political person without holding office. I am political in the sense that I never miss an election. I vote locally, I vote nationally, I use my voice. People think they must have these huge powerful positions to affect change, but that’s not true. Using your voice by voting is critical. The most important action we can take right now–there are so many issues–affirmative action, voter ID laws, DACA, healthcare, and holding our elected officials accountable. They work for us after all. Voting–I think it’s despicable so many people sat out this past election. So many people fought for our right to vote, and I remember my grandmother, who is almost bedridden, made sure she voted; my other grandmother, who has since passed, voted in every local election and every national election. So, it’s despicable that so many people sat out. When you sit out you have no right to complain about anything that’s going on.

What issues in the workplace contribute most to the gender pay gap: accessibility? unconscious bias (including questions about previous salary requirements)? Economic? Reproductive? Or some other nefarious reason. Why do you think these are still challenges we face?

I don’t have the answer to the gender pay gap (I wish I did) but I know that it exists. I know that it’s there. One way that women can help one another is by sharing information. One thing that I will never forget is when I started working at The View, I really had no idea what the salary should be, I had no idea what the hours would be, or the environment. Out of the blue, Sherri Shepherd, a former co-host, got my phone number and not only shared her salary history with me, she shared the work hours, she shared what to expect. If more women did for each other what Sherri did for me, I don’t think we would have that gender pay gap. And, if more men shared the information with their spouses, with their daughters, and with their nieces, I think we would be in a different place. Information is power. People have convinced each other that talking about money is inappropriate. I don’t think it’s inappropriate at all. It makes for a permanent underclass when we have no financial acuity.

Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block in the work place and what you did about it?

I remember one television executive had a significant amount of control over my career. I went in and I said I am one of the hardest workers here, I get in before everyone else, I leave after everyone else, I’m more prepared than anyone else, I want a shot at anchoring. At the time, he was auditioning people for an anchor job and asked me to sit in to audition them and let the would-be anchor interview me. I went to him and said, “I am sitting in audition after audition and I am better than these guys,” and they were all men. He said that I would never be a national anchor or host and that, “I should stay in my lane,” because I was very good at what I did. I realized, at that point, I had to leave because he didn’t have the vision that I had for myself.

Do you think that asking previous salary requirements in job interviews contributes to the pay gap between women and men? NY State recently outlawed this practice. Should we push for a nationwide ban?

We need a nationwide ban. It’s always been fascinating to me when you are asked on applications about previous salaries. I have been asked at various times during my career. Of course, they use that information to determine how low they can pay you. How do you put a salary cap on someone’s worth, on someone’s value? I was pleased to hear my home state of NY outlawed the practice.

Have you seen any changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? If so, what are they?

Absolutely. We had our first female candidate for president for a national party. I just finished reading Hillary Clinton’s book, “What Happened,” and she talks about the fact that, clearly, the country is not ready for a female president. We had, who I think is the most qualified candidate–male or female–that we’ve had in years, maybe decades, and she didn’t win. Shockingly, many women didn’t vote for her. We are seeing sexism and misogyny. Sexism, to be clear, is different than misogyny. Hillary Clinton did a really good job of explaining it: sometimes a husband just doesn’t want his wife to make more money than he does. It makes him uncomfortable. That’s sexist. People can’t see a woman in a leadership position, leading the free world. That’s sexist. But, when you combine those feelings with anger and hate and you’re saying things like “grab ‘em by the vagina,” that is misogyny. And what we have seen, quite frankly, is that sexism still exists and misogyny certainly still exists. I believed we were past the majority of that. I thought, very much so, that Hillary was the most qualified candidate, and that she was a woman was a positive, a benefit. On the bright side, we are seeing more women run and there are women all around the world taking leadership positions. We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m hopeful that the next generations will progress.

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

It was covering the Trayvon Martin trial. I think, in a sense, before that trial I was just playing a TV journalist on air. I was modeling after Soledad O’Brien, Oprah–people that I had seen as successful in the media. When I was covering that case on the ground in Sanford, FL, I became very close to the case because I was in the courtroom every single day, and I realized that I could use my background as a lawyer and, quite frankly, my empathy as a mother to analyze and report. I became suddenly authentic. When I became more authentic on TV, my career took off. I found my voice, and realized that my voice mattered.

Do you believe that open access to porn (including violent video games, social media etc.) contributes to gender inequality and violence against women?

No question. I just found out recently that there is all this free porn on the internet. It was astonishing to me. When you objectify women in that way you dehumanize them. The access to these images desensitizes innocent children.

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

My father told me if you have real passion in what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. He said, “don’t work for money, you work for passion. The money will follow.” I can honestly say every day that I come to work it doesn’t feel like work. The other piece of advice that I’ve been given is about authenticity. Someone told me that “you have to do you because no one can do that better.” It sounded so simple, but it’s so true. The minute you try to model off of someone else, you lose yourself. I try to live that way: being authentic, passionate, and bold.

There are many studies that support the idea that a female presence in the board room increases the bottom line and leads to healthier work environments. What can we do to continue to support and enhance the growth and presence of women in high profile positions.

There is no question that those are the stats. Carla Harris, who has written a great book, “Expect to Win,” says that all of the decisions about your career are made when you are not in the room. You need a champion who is inside of the room, who has political capital and is willing to spend it on you. And that is very true because we are generally not in the room where it happens. In order to have more power as women, we need to start getting in the room, and once we have that political capital, we need to spend it on each other. Going back to Hillary Clinton, I was shocked that so many women did not support her. For example, if there are women on a corporate board for pharmaceuticals, there are more drugs for women that address women’s issues. When there are more women politicians, women’s issues typically go to the forefront. So, I think as women, we need to stop harming each other and start helping each other. I recently heard about “the female lobster theory”: When you have two male lobsters and you put them in boiling water, the male lobsters will help each other get out of the pot. If you have a male and a female lobster, they will both help each other get out of the pot. When you have two female lobsters in the pot, they hold each other down and they both die. Three chefs have told me this. Women must stop the female lobster culture.

Who do you most admire? Why?

I most admire my family. My mom and my dad got married as teenagers and, by all accounts, I should not be a successful person. We didn’t have a lot of money, but I had a lot of love and support. Somehow, they convinced me that I could do anything, that I was beautiful, and that I was the smartest person in the room. I admire them for sacrificing so much for me and for convincing me that I could do anything. I hope I’m doing that for my children because it’s everything.

What is your favorite book (fiction or non-fiction)?

I have so many. I really like Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope, Dorothy West’s The Wedding, The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter. I could go on and on and on. Barack Obama is so thoughtful and honest and brilliant. I find his intellectual heft admirable.

What is your favorite place on earth? Why?

Any place where I am with my family. Being with my two children and husband is my happy place. They bring me joy every single day. I also have two dogs, three chickens, and a garden. I love being home.

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