On January 1, a group of over 300 women in the US entertainment business, including prominent actors like America Ferrera, Eva Longoria, Natalie Portman, and Reese Witherspoon, announced the launch of a massive, nationwide initiative to address sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault in their own workplace as well as other industries. Their effort, entitled Time’s Up, is a leaderless, volunteer-powered campaign to put pressure on employers to take action against harassment, connect victims to legal resources, and protect them from retaliation for speaking out about their experiences of harassment and abuse. As the New York Times’s Cara Buckley reported when the initiative was launched, Time’s Up is starting out with four key components:
- A legal defense fund, backed by $13 million in donations, to help less privileged women — like janitors, nurses and workers at farms, factories, restaurants and hotels — protect themselves from sexual misconduct and the fallout from reporting it.
- Legislation to penalize companies that tolerate persistent harassment, and to discourage the use of nondisclosure agreements to silence victims.
- A drive to reach gender parity at studios and talent agencies that has already begun making headway.
- And a request that women walking the red carpet at the Golden Globes speak out and raise awareness by wearing black.
Central to the endeavor is a focus not only on the rarefied world of these Hollywood stars, but also—especially—on women who lack their power, privilege, and wealth, such as domestic and agricultural workers, who suffer extensively from sexual harassment and violence in the workplace but often lack the resources to fight back. The Time’s Up legal defense fund, which has by now attracted over $16 million and counting in crowdfunded donations, will be housed at and administrated by the National Women’s Law Center and led by Tina Tchen, former chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama, and Roberta Kaplan, who successfully argued before the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.
A separate but related campaign, 50/50 by 2020, is pushing for networks, studios, talent agencies, unions and other organizations in Hollywood to commit to achieving gender parity in their leadership in two years, as well as to the representation of people of color, LGBT people, and people with disabilities—no small feat for a town where 81 percent of board members and 96 percent of film directors are male, and 91 percent of film executives are white.
Sunday’s Golden Globes served as a launch event for Time’s Up, giving the event a markedly more serious tone than is typical of such awards ceremonies. Most of the stars who attended the event wore black in keeping with the request from Time’s Up, and typical red carpet presenter queries of “who are you wearing?” gave way to “why are you wearing black?,” giving women an opportunity to talk about issues of sexual harassment and gender inequality and even to call out TV networks on their gender pay gaps. A-list actresses brought gender equality and racial justice activists as their guests, while women presenters and award winners devoted their remarks to talking about issues of discrimination, representation, and sexual respect in Hollywood and beyond, culminating in a rousing acceptance speech from Oprah Winfrey, the winner of this year’s Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement:
Even before Sunday’s opening act for Time’s Up, Fortune’s Ellen McGirt sounded bullish about its prospects for effecting real change:
I asked Joelle Emerson, the CEO of Paradigm, a rapidly growing consulting start-up that works to help companies be more inclusive, what she thinks of the effort. Before she became a consultant, Emerson was a busy women’s rights lawyer, who focused on litigating harassment. She thinks Times Up can make a difference and applauds their broad focus. “I think what’s often missing about harassment is how it manifests in different types of workforces.” The scale of their work could have an impact, and as a group, they certainly know how to tell a compelling story. “I represented immigrants and low wage workers, and people don’t understand how they’re treated.”
But the group’s bigger goals of inclusion shouldn’t be overlooked, she says. “[Solving harassment] isn’t just about avoiding lawsuits,” she says. “’How do we help organizations make the connection between harassment and culture?’ That’s the key,” she says.
The initiative has been compared to the “OscarsSoWhite” campaign in 2016, which highlighted the fact that no non-white actors had been nominated for an Academy Award that year, prompting the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to take concrete steps to improve the diversity of its notoriously older, white, and male voting membership. In the same vein, Time’s Up and 50/50 by 2020 are demanding more than cosmetic changes within the industry, but just as importantly, they are putting major star power and serious financial resources behind an effort to stamp out sexual harassment and make workplaces everywhere safer and more welcoming for women.