“None of this is rocket science, and so any board or any CEO who tells you it’s just really hard—it’s just horseshit,” said Katie McGrath, co-CEO of production company Bad Robot. She was talking about diversity and gender equality in the workplace at Fast Company’s Innovation Festival on Wednesday.
As one of the women in Hollywood who helped to establish the Time’s Up initiative to fight sexual assault and harassment across industries, McGrath put out a pointed call for executives to step up and do their part to make workplace culture more gender-equitable. “Because if Jamie Dimon—and I’ll just say it—decided that he wanted to really prioritize getting gender equity and pay parity . . . he should just tell everyone their bonus is tied to it.”
“Policy is slow, and we are not going to wait for our federal government to catch up to the urgency that women, and people of all kinds who are marginalized, are facing in these really unfair workplaces. We need to have corporate champions right away,” McGrath explained.
She shared the stage with the newly appointed head of Time’s Up, Tina Tchen, a lawyer who served as Michelle Obama’s chief of staff. Tchen assumed her role as president and CEO of the advocacy organization just days ago. She echoed McGrath’s call for swift action.
We’re at a “transformational moment” when it comes to addressing sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, she said. “I feel the fierce urgency of now and the expectation and the need to seize this moment,” said Tchen, who has played an active role in Time’s Up since its founding. “The attention of the public has stayed riveted on this; CEOs are paying attention—and sometimes losing their jobs.”
According to the Conference Board’s 2019 CEO Succession Practices report, CEO firings are at a 15-year high. Out of the 18 CEOs who left involuntarily, five departures were related to personal conduct, including sexual harassment allegations. (For comparison, only one CEO between 2013 and 2017 left for personal conduct-related reasons.)
Tchen also pointed out that the low unemployment rate makes the moment especially ripe for conversation about workplaces. “We need to move while there’s 3% unemployment, because I recognize that that is an environment [where] people are more willing to try to do culture change . . . when there’s a war for talent,” she said.
Time’s Up was launched in January 2018 and includes a $24 million legal defense fund for women who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. The group has connected approximately 3,700 workers across dozens of industries with legal or PR resources so far.
The organization recently received a seed grant from Pivotal Ventures, an incubator founded by Melinda Gates, to start a new project called Time’s Up Impact Lab, which will focus on research and policies about sexual harassment and discrimination.
“The truth is, we don’t actually know what works,” said Tchen. She said the goal of the Impact Lab will be to do “cutting edge research that we hope then we can take back to companies . . . [to say] this is how you can actually really build an inclusive and diverse workplace culture.”