Salma Hayek Pinault: “If you learn to respect women, you learn to respect life”

By Erin Miller

Our first full day at WorkHuman 2018 ended with a powerful keynote address from Salma Hayek Pinault. While she’s widely known as an actress, Salma has accomplished far more than that in her career.

She is a spokesperson for the Avon Foundation’s Speak Out Against Domestic Violence program. She’s also testified in front of the U.S. Senate, encouraging the extension of the Violence Against Women Act, which resulted in a $3.9 billion allocation to U.S. agencies. And her most recent venture is starting an organization called Chime for Change, dedicated to improving the education, help, and welfare for women and girls around the world. Oh, and she wrote the #1 most-read New York Times article last year.

Salma’s op-ed detailed alleged sexual harassment by film executive Harvey Weinstein, sparking an important and ongoing conversation surrounding workplace harassment and the abuse of power.

Her article spoke to something that everyone can identify with – the abuse of power. “When you are stuck in a situation and there is someone that is in a very powerful position that humiliates you, undermines you, and refuses to acknowledge what you strive to do, it is difficult. The constant abuse of the power and being in a situation where you feel unsafe is something with which anyone (man or woman) can identify.”

Salma continued, “Why do we feel like we (women) need to go to war when we have so much to offer? The lack of respect for a woman has everything to do with basic respect for and as a human being. Everyone can identify with a situation where someone has abused power.”

Her message today was one of resiliency and intelligence – with a dose of data! Salma graduated from high school at 15 and went on to study Political Science in Mexico City. She always knew she wanted to be an actress, but was told she wasn’t talented and that she wouldn’t make it in Mexico. Then, she became a big soap star in Mexico. That’s when she made the move to Hollywood.

She expressed how she’s “always been an immigrant.” Her mom is from Spain and her father is from Lebanon. As her family moved around, she said, “I’ve never been anything other than an immigrant.” When she arrived in the U.S. she was told, “you’re never going to make it because you’re Mexican.” In Salma’s own words, she said, “When I arrived in the U.S., it broke my heart because I was discriminated against and I knew I had more to offer.”

Not only did Salma have more to offer, she had the smarts to figure out how to offer it. When she pitched her show, “Ugly Betty,” to the networks, she was told no one would buy it. Salma knew better than that, so she pulled the data on the potential Latino audience and took it to advertisers. She asked if they would be interested in the audience. They said yes. Not only did they say they’d be interested, but they would pay. She sold the show to advertisers, went back to the network to see if they wanted it and, of course, they said yes.

How has she stayed so driven? Salma knew she had a place “in a bigger context.” In her words, “I am representative of 40 million people who identify with me. You can’t ignore that data. When you are a pioneer, you really need to think outside the box in order to break the walls down.” Which is exactly what she did when she launched “Ugly Betty.”

What’s her advice to those wanting to make change in our world?

“It’s about keeping yourself well-informed and working extra hard on your own growth. When I was in my early 30s, I was the only actress who had produced television, produced filmed, acted, and directed. Still today, nobody from the industry has noticed. I think it must do with me being Latina. I was the first Latina woman nominated as a Best Actress. The level of undermining that happens is so profound,” she said. “It’s hard for people to acknowledge that this happens, but it does. No one took the time to put it together.”  But, she did. She put it together and now many more are taking a harder look too.

As we weaved through stories of her celebrity status and the road she has traveled, she mentions something that resonated with the crowd, “A lot of women put up with a lot of things, and we don’t tell anyone because we don’t want the extra drama. It’s tiring being a woman.”

Globoforce CHRO Steve Pemberton asked Salma if she’s seen change from the #MeToo efforts over the last year. “The change has already happened. In Hollywood, there is six times more work than what was available to women than before. In a world where things are confusing and it’s hard, when people stick together in a belief, change can happen. For things that were seen as OK and accepted for centuries, and even became normality … It’s now not OK. People everywhere are saying, “Let’s reconsider our values. We need to find our sense of respect. If you learn to respect women, you learn to respect life.”

Lastly, Steve asked what men could do in these situations and circumstances. What’s their opportunity to be better? Salma’s advice, “Force yourself to think with respect. It’s no longer about peer pressure and being cool and aggressive. It’s about respect.”

Salma strives to be a symbol of hope and peace. “When people see me, I want them to think anything is possible.”

To continue the WorkHuman conversation, join your peers on LinkedIn by visiting workhumancommunity.com.

Erin Miller
Erin Miller is the VP of People at TransLoc Inc., a Ford Smart Mobility Company.

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