Time’s Up gets lost in conflicts of interest
Three and a half years after the start of Time’s Up’s short lifespan, the nonprofit explains more about why it might not be able to meet its goals rather than becoming a victory for women at the search for a safer workplace.
It is clear that the organization started with good intentions. Emerging from the immediate chaos, confusion and fury of the finally revealed Harvey Weinstein sexual assault story, Time’s Up represented the widespread urgency among women in the entertainment industry to do something – n ‘no matter what – to improve its functioning. The original founding statement, written in early 2018, is signed by more than 300 women in the entertainment world, representing some of the industry’s most powerful players. At the time, the organization was also leaderless, both because it was brand new and because it felt perhaps more unified, or at least more democratic, to present a front in which every woman involved was equal to the other.
As with any nonprofit, however, this idealistic structure could not last long. In the years that followed, Time’s Up hired staff who largely had expertise outside of the entertainment business. Its two separate boards – a board of directors and a global board of directors – currently include women such as Gloria Steinem, Shonda Rhimes, Gretchen Carlson and Anita Hill, as well as executives from talent agencies, production studios and advertising companies. At first glance, this all makes sense. How are you supposed to make change in an industry without the support and knowledge of those who shape it on a daily basis?
This question became much less rhetorical in the days leading up to Tina Tchen’s resignation under extreme pressure on August 26 as CEO of Time’s Up (the organization’s second to do so) after text messages revealed her reluctance to support one of the New York governors. Andrew Cuomo’s accusers with what would have been a true milquetoast statement. With longtime Cuomo advisor Melissa DeRosa on speed dialing, Time’s Up makers found themselves torn between a bland performative statement and utter silence. That they chose the latter option is disappointing, but none of those options live up to Time’s Up’s ostensible goal of holding the feet of powerful aggressors against fire no matter who, no matter what.
To appear to take a sexual assault charge less seriously because it involved a prominent Democratic ally would have been pretty serious on its own. But an even more glaring conflict between Time’s Up’s altruistic goals and the day-to-day jobs of its advisers arose even before The Washington Post published Chen’s damning text messages. Roberta Kaplan, both Chairman of the Board of Directors of Time’s Up and a practicing lawyer, worked closely with DeRosa on Cuomo’s response to Lindsay Boylan’s allegations and provided comments to her office alongside Tchen on the position to adopt. Investigative journalism exposing this direct conflict of interest and the underground route ultimately taken is not only embarrassing for Time’s Up. This threatens to shatter the trust the organization has worked so hard to establish itself as the preeminent voice for women’s safety in the workplace.
What Time’s Up is learning is that as useful as it is to have playmakers in the mix, people in positions of power dealing with other people in positions of power often find themselves compelled to do so. compromise or outright forget their values in favor of keeping valuable relationships. close. The expression “quid pro quo” has almost become an unusable cliché at this point, but the principle remains true in all areas. Too many industries (media certainly included) still operate on the principle of exchange of favors and personal connections. On some level, no one – not even those trying to achieve lofty goals – is immune. As impressive as it was to see some of Hollywood’s greatest forces unite to form Time’s Up, such solidarity ultimately could have been unbearable. Of course, everyone could agree that harassment is bad. But of course, the transition of such a broad statement from a leaderless mission statement to a multi-pronged organization has complicated matters, especially when so many people involved have their own interests, contacts, and goals to worry about.
Again: this inherent conflict of morals and practical concerns is nothing new to the nonprofit sector, or really to any business with vaguely altruistic ideals. But if Time’s Up is to depend on its sprawling network of connections, it might have to come to terms with the fact that sometimes sticking to your principles can mean building bridges as well.
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