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Time's Up Now CEO says Weinstein's prison sentence sets a precedent

Tina Tchen spoke in Grand Rapids at the YWCA of West Central Michigan's annual luncheon.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — When the YWCA West Central Michigan scheduled their annual Open Circle luncheon with speaker Tina Tchen, CEO of Time's Up Now, organizers had no idea that it would fall on the day of Harvey Weinstein's sentencing. 

Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison on Wednesday just hours before Tchen spoke at the JW Marriott in Grand Rapids. Tchen, who is also a lawyer and Michelle Obama's former chief of staff, took over last November as the chief executive for Time's Up, a group that formed in response to the Weinstein allegations.

RELATED: Weinstein sentenced to 23 years for sexual assaults

Tchen was one of the hundreds of women who started the movement in 2018 to advocate for survivors. The group was initiated by members of the entertainment industry, but Tchen said their mission is to help women in all industries across the country. 

Tchen sat down with 13 ON YOUR SIDE following the YWCA luncheon. Below is a transcription of the interview.

Harvey Weinstein was sentenced today. What does his sentence signify?

I think the Weinstein conviction and today's sentencing really marks a new era of justice in our country, where survivors are going to be believed, prosecutors are going to see these as cases that they should take to trial and juries are going to believe survivors when they testify and they're going to convict people...and now judges are going to sentence them for long prison terms. Up until now the reality has been, of every 1,000 perpetrators of sexual assault 995 go free, either because nobody reports them or nobody prosecutes them or juries don't convict. I think that is finally going to change.

You've been with Time's Up from the beginning, but now, you are in this leadership position. What's to come? What do you want to see change?

I took this job as CEO sort of leaving my law job that I was pretty happy at because I do believe we are in a fundamental change moment. They don't come around very often where transformation can happen in our culture. I think that's what we see happening in how people understand sexual harassment and abuse, what toxic workplaces are and people are really committed to changing and building better workplaces where everyone, not just women, but were talking about people of color, LGBTQIA and disabled workers can feel like they belong, feel safe and respected. That's the real promise here. That is what we are working towards. It's a lot of work, but it is something I feel really optimistic that we can achieve. Companies are seeing it's in their best interest to make these changes themselves and invest in their workers...Those are the companies that are going to succeed in the next 10 years.

What is it like going into large companies and advising them on how to change workplace culture? (Tchen has worked with large companies like Uber both in her previous job and now at Time's Up) 

A lot of times they are calling because they've experienced a crisis...but also, there are companies that just want to do the right thing. One of the things we've realized in the last two years, is that all the work that so many of us, myself included, have been doing for three decades on diversity and inclusion and gender equity hasn't been enough. Now we see with all these incredibly brave silence breakers, who have come forward to talk about the harassment they are experiencing or the unequal pay they are continuing to experience 50 years after the passage of the equal pay act...we know that we haven't done enough and we need to do something different. We need to re-invest. The big issue is that it has to get led from the top. This is as big a sea change as the Sarbanes–Oxley security crisis or the Great Recession where we need to change company practices to respond to changing conditions in our economy and our culture. This is the latest and we are going to have to change. I see companies wanting to do that and one of my obligations at Time's Up is to help companies do that.

Time's Up is a resource for everyone, but how do you respond to people who ask "How can you help me?"

It's a fair question. We were born out of the entertainment industry, so it feels very coastal whether it's L.A. or New York, but it is really about workers everywhere. First of all, if somebody is experiencing sexual harassment in the workforce they should reach out to the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund... We are representing people across the country through the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund in 70 different industries. Three quarters of whom are low income workers, so this really is for anyone in whatever industry you are. Also, we are advocating for everyone in every kind of workplace whether it's for equal pay, or paid leave or better workplace conditions. That is what we want to be about. We are working for state law changes in jurisdictions across the country. Seventeen different states have enacted laws to better address issues around sexual harassment, or the end of mandatory arbitration or expanding protections for contract workers. 

What advice do you have for someone experiencing sexual harassment or something that's diminishing their ability to do their job?

Reach out. You can again reach out to Time's Up or a friend or a neighbor. Also, one important thing is to document it. If there are troubling emails or texts you're getting print them out and keep them or take notes so that you have the information to give to someone if you decide you want to pursue things. I would say if you're experiencing domestic violence or serious abuse, I would say contact the terrific YWCA, because they have resources to help you, as well. 

YWCA West Central Michigan Help Line: 616-454-9922

Text NOW to 30644 to reach Time's Up Now. 

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