Meltdown at Time’s Up as Tina Tchen Resigns: Can the Nonprofit Survive? | Analysis
With the resignation of CEO Tina Tchen on Thursday, the nonprofit group Time’s Up — created to protect survivors of sexual assault — has slid from crisis to full-on catastrophe, accused of protecting the powerful rather than serving those “who have been trodden underfoot.”
New revelations that the group’s leadership had been working with disgraced New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to mitigate accusations of sexual misconduct against him has exposed the group to fresh cries of betrayal and led to an existential moment unlike any in the group’s brief history.
Tchen stepped down just weeks after chairwoman Roberta Kaplan resigned over her work defending Cuomo, an extraordinary collapse of credibility in the eyes of survivors and a blow to the credibility of the powerful Time’s Up board of directors that includes showrunner Shonda Rhimes, producer Katie McGrath and Hollywood power lawyer Nina Shaw.
On Thursday, survivors unleashed a renewed wave of fury and pain at what they called a betrayal by the organization whose stated mission was to protect them.
“This could have all been different,” said Alison Turkos, a survivor who authored a letter signed by 145 others this month demanding that Time’s Up reexamine its mission. “We went to the Time’s Up leadership and told them they were failing us — and they refused to listen.”
“It saddens me that Time’s Up focus was never survivors — and that shows,” said Louise Godbold, executive director of trauma and resilience nonprofit Echo, in an exclusive statement to TheWrap. “With so few resources for survivors, it pains me that so much money has been spent to so little effect and to end in ignominy.”
She continued: “Systems change is important and yet Time’s Up has squandered even that opportunity because the leaders have been too embroiled, too conditioned by the very systems they seek to dismantle. The women involved in Time’s Up leadership will go on to enjoy more privilege and power. It is the survivors who have been trodden underfoot.”
Rosanna Arquette, the actress, activist and Time’s Up member, told TheWrap: “I feel sick from it all. I’m so sad. Let’s not blow up a women’s entity that exists, where there’s money to help people. Let’s restructure it and bring in people to do it right.”
Shaw and other board members contacted by TheWrap declined to comment, pointing instead to a board statement in response to Tchen’s resignation which noted: “Tina has made a difference in the lives of so many and we are grateful for her hard work and impact. Accepting her resignation today is a demonstration of accountability and will allow our organization to move forward.”
Overall, many have questioned if the organization that was created in 2018 by a focused group of powerful women in entertainment, media and politics would be able to create change, or if it was destined to be co-opted by the very systems their stated aim was to disrupt. Others have also complained about the group’s increased advocacy in non-MeToo issues, including public statements about racial equity at the Golden Globes and Scarlett Johansson’s contract dispute with Disney over “Black Widow.”
Evan Nierman, CEO of Crisis PR firm Red Banyan and author of “Crisis Averted,” observed that Time’s Up has a short window to regain the credibility it has lost. “The decisions that the organization makes in the couple of weeks or months will have a huge impact on the long-term viability of the organization,” he told TheWrap. “It’s clear that the organization’s mandate expanded dramatically over a very short amount of time, and that kind of complexity can become very hard to manage. And it can create conflicts of interest.”
Founded in 2018 in response to the #MeToo movement and revelations about former mogul and convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein, Time’s Up has experienced a series of scandals, surprisingly many of them related to men accused of sexual assault. After all, this is not the first time its leadership team has crumbled. Even before Kaplan and Tchen’s resignations, Time’s Up’s first CEO, Lisa Boarders, abruptly quit in February 2019 after a sexual assault accusation against her son Gary “Dijon” Bowden Jr. became public. Despite being on the job for less than two months as CEO that year, tax records recently reviewed by TheWrap show she was paid $590,000. In 2019, Time’s Up spent 45% more on staff salaries than it has on its Legal Defense Fund, the arm that provides legal and PR support for survivors of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.
This March, at least six of Time’s Up Healthcare co-founding members resigned in protest after board member Dr. Esther Choo was accused of silencing a woman who reported sexual harassment at her Oregon hospital. Choo remains on the board of the organization.
By August, an independent investigation launched by New York Attorney General Letitia James found that Kaplan and Tchen had helped Cuomo strategize a response to his 11 accusers, including participating in discussions of how to publicly discredit one of them. A group of survivors banded together following the investigation and called out Time’s Up in an open letter, criticizing the organization for not being transparent about its connections to individuals accused or sexual assault or harassment.
“This is the latest domino to fall,” Nierman said of the Cuomo scandal.
Even amid an outcry from 145 survivors and advocates and pressure from those outside the organization, Tchen just this week insisted that she was not going anywhere. She said she “still deeply” believed in the vision and mission of Time’s Up, and was committed to “doing the work.”
On Thursday, a Washington Post report revealed that Time’s Up leaders decided against issuing a statement in support of Cuomo’s first accuser in December. Leaked text messages showed how Tchen instructed her colleagues to “stand down” from a plan they had to release a public statement in support of Lindsey Boylan. She explained to The Post on Wednesday that Time’s Up had a policy of “not commenting on self-reported statements.” She added: “I deeply regret that survivors, who have already endured a great deal, feel let down and betrayed. That was not my intention.”
Nierman noted that many of Time’s Up’s recent troubles stemmed from introducing a consulting practice to advise individuals or organizations. He noted that this new venture has made things far more complex, leading to a lack of transparency about its involvement with the Cuomo administration.
“I believe Time’s Up had the right intentions in mind when they expanded their mandate, but I don’t think they handled it well and they found themselves in a huge PR crisis,” Nierman said. “What I think is going to be important in their next leader is someone who can make bold strategic decisions to narrow the organization’s focus and get it back closer and ensure that it’s closer to their original mission. I think by doing fewer things but doing them very well will be a recipe for success for TIme’s Up.”
For now, the group will look to Tchen’s replacement, Monifa Bandele, for navigation. Bandele, formerly an adviser of MomsRising and most recently the group’s COO, will take over as interim CEO starting Aug. 31. In revamping Time’s Up, leaders will have to demonstrate accountability to its funders and supporters, but also to its founding members and survivors on exactly how it can rebuild trust with the community.
“My question to them is what will be different going forward, because it cannot be the same,” Turkos said.