Tina Tchen has held on to power at Time’s Up, the nation’s preeminent anti-harassment group, through almost two years of political scandal, celebrity controversy, and internal friction. Now, her grip on the embattled organization may be in peril.
Tchen and her team were hit with an avalanche of damaging revelations in recent weeks, starting with the news that she and former board chair Roberta Kaplan had consulted with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on how to respond to allegations of sexual harassment against him. Kaplan stepped down more than two weeks ago, but Tchen has hung on, claiming she is “committed to rebuilding trust” with the communities the organization harmed.
And some survivors—including those who previously backed or benefited from the group’s services—aren’t happy about it.
“The audacity of Tina Tchen to remain in her position after all of this news is really a slap in the face,” Charlotte Bennett, one of the first women to publicly accuse Cuomo of sexual misconduct, told The Daily Beast. “I don’t understand how she can be a leader in this space anymore.”
She added: “You can ask for all the feedback in the world, but if you’re one of the perpetrators, you just shouldn’t be at the table.”
Tchen held an emergency meeting with the original Time’s Up founders on Monday, in the wake of an explosive New York Times story on internal divisions and conflicts of interest at the organization. The CEO apologized to the star-studded group of founders and admitted that mistakes had been made, a source present at the meeting told Variety. But she showed no indication of stepping down.
“There are survivors in leadership, on our staff and in our community, representing different experiences and viewpoints, who are actively engaged in the conversation about how to best move forward,” Tchen told Variety after the meeting. “We know we haven’t done the best job of this in the past, but we are committed to ensuring that our process and the work that emerges from it is informed by survivors at every step.”
Some of the founders appear convinced; actress and Weinstein accuser Caitlin Dulany told the outlet she was “optimistic that Time’s Up will take this opportunity to correct itself.” And Shonda Rhimes issued a supportive statement to the Times this weekend, saying she “proudly support[s] the organization that is fighting for this change.”
But not all of the founders feel the same. Famed screenwriter Winnie Holzman, one of the 300-plus women who signed on to an open letter announcing the group’s formation in 2018, told The Daily Beast she did not attend the meeting but has serious concerns about how Time’s Up was run.
“There’s clearly been too many conflicts of interest,” she said in an email. “It’s harmful.”
Of Tchen, she added: “I feel she should step down.”
Actress, activist, and director Rose McGowan—one of the first women to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct and an early critic of Time's Up—also declined to join the meeting. She tweeted out her response to the invitation on Tuesday, which included the line: “Sure you’ll help true victims Tina, right over a cliff you’ll help us.” (“Best of luck in your fiery future!” she added in closing.)
The Daily Beast first reported on the trouble brewing at Time’s Up in April, when staffers complained about the organization showing favoritism toward male politicians like Cuomo. (In one incident, former staffers said they were required to take a photo of a Cuomo critic off their website after the governor called to complain.) The Times revealed this weekend that the organization had given Cuomo an advance copy of their statement on the allegations against him, and had given similar support to other male politicians accused of sexual misconduct.
More than 100 survivors have signed onto an open letter calling for change at Time’s Up since learning that they consulted with Cuomo two weeks ago. The letter—which has been signed by state senators, former Time’s Up staffers, and former clients of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund—does not call for Tchen’s resignation, but it does demand a third-party investigation and the removal of any staff members found to have “supported perpetrators of harm.”
Some survivors have gone even further, calling on Tchen to step down or for the organization to be disbanded. Lindsey Boylan, the first woman to publicly accuse Cuomo of sexual harassment, tweeted that “being a leader is knowing when your presence is withholding vital growth,” and added: “You need to go @TinaTchen.”
Another signatory, political consultant Alaina Hampton, received public relations support from the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund in 2018 after accusing a staffer in a prominent politician’s office of sexual harassment. But she told The Daily Beast she felt the organization had “lost its mission” by aligning itself too strongly with its powerful political supporters.
“They’re just too tied to the Democratic Party and I don’t think they're even really realizing the issues that it causes,” she said. “It just seems like everything that’s happening is damage control and crisis management.”
“I believe it needs to be dismantled,” she added.
Tara Reade, one of the first women to accuse Time’s Up of being too entwined with the Democratic Party, also added her thoughts over the weekend. Reade has openly criticized the organization since the Legal Defense Fund declined to support her allegations against Joe Biden in 2019, claiming they couldn’t assist in a case against a candidate for federal office. On Sunday, she tweeted that the organization should “start with Tina Tchen’s resignation” and then conduct an audit of how its funds were used.
Tchen said Monday that the organization will hire a consulting firm to help with an internal investigation—or as she put it, “to lead us in structuring an open and collaborative impact review process.” But several survivors said they did not trust the process to be impartial if Time’s Up staffers were involved. Some raised parallels to Cuomo, who attempted to hand-pick a judge to investigate the sexual assault claims against him before eventually handing the investigation over to the attorney general’s office.
Megan Malloy, a former Time’s Up staffer, said Tchen’s statement on the investigation made it seem like the consulting firm would “just be structuring the process, not leading the process, which is concerning.” She noted that the organization had not taken responsibility for the Cuomo incident until survivors demanded an apology, which, she added, “doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence” in their ability to hold themselves accountable.
But Malloy was hesitant to call for Tchen’s immediate ouster.
“The issues at Time’s Up run so much deeper than any one individual leader,” she said. “Being embedded with the power structures they claim to hold accountable is a stated part of Time’s Up’s strategy. Until that changes, they will continue to put survivors in harm’s way—no matter who is in charge.”