Four days into her tenure as president and CEO of Time’s Up, Tina Tchen offered her view of the entertainment landscape and beyond during a keynote session at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York.
“My goal is that, when we look 10 years from now, and all of you out there who are starting companies, I want your companies to have a workplace culture that is vastly different,” Tchen said. Organizations should view labor “not as just a cost item on your P&L sheet that you’re trying to contain costs in, but as an asset that you’re investing in. … Because guess what? The success of your company, in the knowledge economy that we’re in, is going to be based on the talent that you can attract and keep and promote and allow to flourish.”
The change requires “a shift of mindset,” she added. “This isn’t about, ‘settle as many lawsuits as we can and have the lowest level of conduct so that we have the lowest number of employment cases.’ Set the values of who you are as a company really high and aspire to that.”
Tchen was joined onstage by Katie McGrath, co-CEO of Bad Robot. McGrath was one of the early organizers of Time’s Up in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations in 2017 and the subsequent wave of sexual misconduct allegations that swept through American culture. Time’s Up was a potent response to those events, McGrath said, but is now poised to take steps forward in terms of its impact.
“Our brand is something that we have to do a better job at communicating and refining … now that the team is getting into a more formal place,” McGrath said.
The leadership and organization of Time’s Up has hit a few bumps along the way. Tchen, a lawyer and former chief of staff for First Lady Michelle Obama, was named CEO in October. She succeeded Lisa Borders, who stepped down last February after just four months on the job after sexual assault allegations were made against her son.
“When we think about the corporate strategy for Time’s Up,” McGrath said, “it’s critical that we are telling the leadership, the boards and the CEOs [of companies] to understand that if they direct their attention toward issues of culture, safety, dignity, equity, they will be rewarded on the other side with retention upside, with bottom-line upside, with product differentiation just because you’ll have more thoughtful people around the table with different perspective. … There is an empirical case beyond the ethical one for what Time’s Up is looking to promote and champion in this new phase with Tina at the helm.”
She continued: “None of this is rocket science. So any board or any CEO who tells you, ‘It’s just really hard,’ it’s just horsesh-t. I’m sorry. It’s just not real.”
Tchen recalled a meeting with a brand consultancy when she was doing legal work with Time’s Up but before she had taken on the CEO role. “Usually, people come in with a product and they’re trying to create a global brand,'” she remembered the firm telling Time’s Up. “‘You guys have a global brand and no product.’ We didn’t really have our agenda scoped out. We didn’t really have what it was. … The agenda has gotten fleshed out. … We’re developing the policy changes that need to happen. But we still have this really powerful brand. That was one of the reasons I left my cushy law practice to come here and do this.”
While Hollywood is far from the complete picture when it comes to sexual harassment or workplace misconduct, Tchen said it can be a force for change. “When a Natalie Portman or an Ashley Judd spoke about their personal issues,” she said, the effect of their words was far-reaching. “We all think we are Natalie Portman’s girlfriend. We’re not, but we think we are. And I think that that had an impact, to see your girlfriend, the person you identify so strongly with, talking about her personal pain. That has galvanized us and touched average Americans in a way that other incidents have not.”
Asked about whether Time’s Up would consider a more direct investment in film and TV projects, McGrath said the goal is to “scale the awareness and the opportunities” rather than financing directly.
Tchen said the main priority is to “change who are the storytellers,” improving the diversity of directors, producers and writers. “And the gatekeepers,” McGrath added. She clarified, “We’re not looking to throw out the patriarchy and have a matriarchy. In all these environments, whether it’s government, in the workplace, it’s all about creating balance, ultimately.”