“Time’s Up” may have been popularized by some of the entertainment industry’s biggest stars, but its mandate extends far beyond Hollywood.
The movement launched in the first days of 2018—following the revelations about Harvey Weinstein and accusations of misconduct against other powerful men in Hollywood—with 300 prominent women in the entertainment industry signing an open letter asserting their unwillingness to ignore sexual harassment in the workplace any longer.
Their strategy, which included wearing all black to the 2018 Golden Globes award ceremony, helped bring the movement and its message into the spotlight.
“The blackout meant that even if you didn’t want to talk about it, you had to, because you couldn’t do a story the next week about the colorful outfits of the Golden Globes,” actress and activist Sophia Bush tells Fast Company following a panel discussion on the topic at the Collision conference in New Orleans. “We were able to take the narrative back, and control the conversation, and force people to shed light on this uncomfortable topic.”
Taking the Fight Beyond the Red Carpet
While the entertainment industry helped popularize the movement, Bush, who was one of the original signatories, says it was “never just about Hollywood,” adding that revelations of sexual misconduct and inequality in the industry are only examples of an issue that touch nearly every workplace in the U.S. “This is not a Hollywood issue; this is a systemic, psychosocial, societal problem, and we understand that by leveraging our position, we can lift other women in all other industries,” she says.
To that end, Time’s Up has raised over $13 million for a legal defense fund to ensure all victims of sexual assault, harassment, and inequality have the resources to take their battle to court. “We can help to make this a conversation, we can help to raise that legal defense fund, and we can make sure that women who are farm workers, who are hotel workers, who are domestic workers, who are hospital workers, we can support all of them too,” says Bush.
Fellow panelist and president of the American Civil Liberties Union Susan Herman tells Fast Company that the Time’s Up movement is supporting a myriad of organizations that are taking steps to curb assault, inequality and harassment in the workplace. She points to the Fair Food Program, a partnership between farmers, farm workers, and retail food companies, as an example of one such program Time’s Up is actively supporting.
“They all got together to figure out what best practices should be, and major retail food companies have pledged not to buy food from farmers that don’t follow those practices, and don’t hold sexual abusers accountable,” Herman says, adding that the Fair Food Program and other programs like it are helping to showcase how a culture of abuse, wage disparity, and inequality are ultimately bad for business.
“As many tech companies have experienced, if you have a company that’s homogeneous and all of the employees fit one profile, you won’t get the range of ideas that you would get if you had a more diverse group,” she says. “If your company doesn’t have a decent sexual harassment policy, you’re very likely to find yourself and your company embarrassed in a public relations disaster when someone does something they don’t understand is sexual harassment.”
Data As The Movement’s Most Powerful Weapon
Making those standards clear is vital to ensuring a safe and fair working environment, but instances of abuse and harassment are rarely black and white. Disputes have historically had to contend with the murky waters of perception and nuance, often coming down to one person’s word against another’s.
“Nuance is by definition hard to define,” explains Bush. “I don’t necessarily think it’s going to be helpful to say, ‘Here are 10 words you can’t say, and if those aren’t the words you’re saying, you’re in the clear.”
The self-described “lover of data science” says that the Time’s Up movement has instead relied on harnessing the power of research to help inform the conversation around workplace misconduct. “Very often, people’s response to things that make them uncomfortable is, ‘It can’t really be that bad,’ or ‘Maybe she’s just exaggerating,” she says. “We now know that less than 2% of reports of sexual harassment are false.”
Timesupnow.com offers a range of relevant statistics and data gathered from credible sources to further put the conversation into context. For example, it quotes a 2015 survey that found 1 in 3 women aged 18 to 34 have been sexually harassed at work, yet 71% did not report it. Bush explains that such statistics help show victims “it’s not just me who experienced this and was shamed or silenced or threatened, and it’s not me and one other person; in some of the rooms I’m in, it’s more of the women than not.”
Providing Actionable Advice And Resources To Victims
Beyond gathering data and signatures, creating valuable partnerships with workers’ rights unions and providing a legal defense fund for victims, Time’s Up also seeks to communicate actionable advice for victims of sexual assault, harassment, or inequality in the workplace.
Bush recommends a number of ways to diffuse workplace conversations before they reach a point of discomfort. She explains that while some might view an off-color joke or inappropriate comment as harmless, their persistence can communicate a culture that doesn’t take worker safety seriously.
Bush adds that such situations often arise in energetic group settings, but when a light-hearted conversation starts to feel unsafe or predatory, she recommends directly addressing those who make a comment that crosses the line.
“Say, ‘I’m sorry, maybe I missed something, but I don’t understand what you meant, can you clarify it for me?'” she suggests. “Then that person has to clarify themselves in a room full of people, and they might say, ‘I was just kidding,’ or try to brush it off, but you have recourse to say, ‘I didn’t find it funny, but let’s move on.”
If off-color jokes or inappropriate comments persist, Bush says that it’s important for those who feel threatened to make it known to their employer.
“Go to your HR department and say ‘Hey, I don’t want to get into specifics, but you guys might want to keep your eye on so-and-so. There was some commentary, it could become a liability for the company, I don’t really want to say more at this point, but I’d like there to be a record of it,” she recommends. “That puts it on the record and begins something but doesn’t make you feel like you’re threatening your own job.”
Whether or not these initial steps are successful, Herman emphasizes the importance of keeping detailed records throughout, especially in the moments immediately following an incident.
“Especially because of concerns of retaliation, it’s very important that people know when something is happening to document everything that’s going on, to make a timeline, take screen shots, keep evidence,” she says. “That not only will ensure that people will have to believe you when you’re speaking with HR, but it also means that you then have some protection to show if they all of a sudden decide to fire or not promote you.”
Herman also recommends consulting the free online guides provided by betterbrave.org, a nonprofit organization established by a number of women in the technology industry, that include instruction manuals and resources for victims of workplace harassment and abuse.
“The EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] website is there, the ACLU website is there, there’s all these organizations out there, but we can’t represent everybody, so I think it’s most important for women in that position to have allies and people they can talk to,” she says.
Though victims have long suffered in silence, the movement ultimately seeks to provide information, resources, and mentorship to empower women from the red carpet to the factory floor, ensuring that the days of ignoring workplace misconduct are up.
“Don’t go it alone,” says Herman. “Don’t suffer in silence, because you’re not alone.”