Culture 18 January 2018
Your grandmother has a #MeToo story, and her grandmother did, as well. You have a story, your mother has a story, your friends and coworkers have stories. People you've never met, in parts of the world you've never seen, in work spaces you don't know exist — they have stories, too.
It's been this way for many years, but today we're actually sharing those stories, and we're doing so at a rate that's generating an enormous amount of empowered momentum.
There's no question: we're in the midst of an incredible movement. Now, thanks to organizations such as Time's Up Now, we're channeling that momentum into actionable steps toward a more equal, safe society where, as Oprah said at the Golden Globes, “nobody ever has to say, 'me too' again."
“I think Time's Up Now has it right in that sexual harassment may be the keyhole by which women's rights are pushed into the workplace," said Dr. Wendy Walsh, a former frequent guest on FOX News who made explosive sexual harassment claims against Bill O'Reilly. She wasn't the first or last to come forward, but her testimony played a large role in sealing the coffin for one of the network's most profitable hosts.
She continued, “Our current workplace is a male-ordered structure that is best suited for employees who have a wife at home. By extending the sexual harassment crisis into a conversation about revamping workplaces to meet all the needs of female employees — including childcare and parental leave — Time's Up Now has their finger on our cultural pulse."
“I think Time's Up Now has it right in that sexual harassment may be the keyhole by which women's rights are pushed into the workplace,"
- Dr. Wendy Walsh
Photo courtesy of W magazine
For those unacquainted, Time's Up Now is a leaderless organization comprised of several different groups, including Hollywood elite, with a specific set of goals. Those goals boil down to creating and implementing legislation that combats sexual misconduct in the work space, and it does so with an intersectional feminist eye. We'll look more closely at the initiative soon, but first, let's examine the past and present.
Sexual Harassment, Then and Now
“Companies have, for the most part, come a long way in formally addressing sexual harassment in the workplace since 1986 when the Supreme Court first recognized this as a form of gender discrimination, covered by federal law," explained Pat Gillette, a leading expert on gender diversity and equality in the workplace. (You can read more about the law here: Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act). Gillette spent four decades as an employment litigation specialist, which involved training and advising employees of Fortune 500 companies, and their executives, on how to prevent and address sexual and racial harassment claims. She said that today, the majority of companies have policies in place that prohibit harassment and retaliation against people who complain of harassment. In fact, many states of mandatory training on these topics, and Human Resource professionals are fairly well-trained in how to handle these kinds of complaints.
Additionally, she noted that in recent years courts have favorably interpreted existing laws, and verdicts for sexual harassment claims often include awards for punitive damages ranging anywhere from minimal to millions. (The largest verdict was in Calif., where a single plaintiff was awarded $185 million). In that sense, there's a definite threat to companies that don't address harassment claims.All this progress, however, doesn't mean that harassment has been eradicated.
“[Sexual harassment] often takes place under the radar. Women — who are the primary victims — are fearful of reporting the harassment of powerful men — or perceived to be powerful men — for fear of retaliation or retribution. It can go unreported for years," said Gillette. “Many women also fear that even if they successfully bring a claim of harassment, they will be ostracized and will find it difficult to find employment in the industry again. So, professional women who we might otherwise expect to be more willing to come forward, are often as fearful of speaking out as women who are in positions in hotels, restaurants, and other lower paying jobs."
The bottom line is that the landscape is better today than what it was 40 years ago. However, as ongoing reports of harassment indicate, many powerful men have not changed their behavior, and many women struggle with feeling empowered enough to report this bad behavior.
“That has to change if we are ever going to truly achieve equality in the workplace," said Gillette. “That requires not only better monitoring of behavior, more training and vigilance, but also that we get more women into management, into the board rooms and into the top levels of compensation in our companies and corporations."
It also means continuing the current momentum of speaking out, having important uncomfortable conversations, creating networks and providing resources for women, and implementing specific policies that further protect women and minorities in the workspace.
"Women — who are the primary victims — are fearful of reporting the harassment of powerful men — or perceived to be powerful men — for fear of retaliation or retribution. It can go unreported for years. Many women also fear that even if they successfully bring a claim of harassment, they will be ostracized and will find it difficult to find employment in the industry again."
- Pat Gillette
Time's Up Now
You may not have been wholly familiar with Time's Up Now until the recent Golden Globes, where Hollywood women, and some men, banded together to push the initiative into the spotlight. Every female wore black to the red carpet, and the organization was discussed repeatedly throughout the evening.
As mentioned, Time's Up Now is run by multiple groups, but Hollywood's participation is a no brainer for several reasons.
“Such high profile and respected women in the film and media industries coming together to fight sexual harassment and misconduct can create a sea change in society," said Ambassador Harriet L. Elam-Thomas, a U.S. diplomat and author of Diversifying Diplomacy who spent almost 35 years out of the U.S. with the goal to improve America's image abroad. “Their work reaches wide audiences and transcends academic, economic, racial, gender orientation, ethnic, and religious boundaries. What these individuals say and do will have far more impact, in many cases, than what parents, mentors, spiritual leaders and political leaders say. These women will deliver powerful messages to those who need to hear it most."
Sophia Bush, one of 300 Hollywood women to sign the Time's Up Now decree that appeared in the New York Times, told InStyle, “The work began months before. It was inspired by a letter, signed by 700,000 women from the Farm Workers Union, which they wrote to stand in solidarity with the women of the entertainment business who had come forward. As the #MeToo conversation came, finally, to the forefront, we all recognized that this moment could be a pivotal and revolutionary time across industries. Amber Tamblyn brought the idea to me, and I was all in. The notion that with our platform we can elevate all women, that their pain is our pain, that their justice is our justice? That's what this is all about."
The really important question, though, is this: How can the organization can take their megaphone and use it to effectively implement game-changing — life changing — policy?
Sophia Bush. Photo courtesy of In Style
“We all must be aware that policy changes must come from our legislative leaders, beginning at the county, state and then the federal level," said Elam-Thomas. “That means there must be a strategic set of goals at the outset to create the pressure that pushes them to do the right thing. Demonstrations and activism may grab headlines, but a carefully crafted action plan with realistic goals must be in place."
This also means that more women need to pursue political office, and voters need to elect them. Currently, women hold only 23% of government office positions.
A Hopeful Future
Though we clearly have some work to do — in terms of reducing sexual harassment, shifting mindsets, and improving overall conditions for females in the work space and in communities — real change is unobtainable. And the Time's Up Now initiative, and similar organizations, are working diligently to make a difference.
“There are plans for legislation that will stop the systematic pressuring victims with non-disclosure agreements," said Bush in the Instyle interview. “The fund will help defend women in all walks of life as they stand up to abusers and the organizations that protect them. And that's how systems change. That's how this movement draws a line in the sand and becomes a marker of systemic change." In that sense, The Time's Up initiative provides money to help women who don't have the resources to pursue their rights. It also increases the visibility of remedies that many women might not otherwise know about, which is incredibly important.
Finally, seeing women rally around each other — be it on the red carpet, on social media, or within our communities — is proof that we have strength in numbers and motivation. And as our cries and demands continue to crescendo, the greater a shift we'll see. This shift may not erase the #MeToo stories of generations past, but our daughters, and their daughters, will be the beneficiaries of today's actions. And that is a future worth fighting for.
Women in black for Time's Up Now. Photo courtesy of Footwear News
It seemed like everything happened overnight because, well… it did.
One moment, my team and I were business as usual, running a multi-million-dollar edible cookie dough company I built from scratch in my at-home kitchen five years ago and the next we were sitting in an emergency management team meeting asking ourselves, "What do we do now?" Things had escalated in New York, and we were all called to do our part in "flattening the curve" and "slowing the spread."
The governor had declared that all restaurants immediately close to the public. All non-essential businesses were also closed, and 8.7 million New Yorkers were quarantined to their tiny apartments for the foreseeable future. Things like "social distancing" and "quarantine" were our new 2020 vernacular — and reality.
What did that mean for us? Our main revenue source was the retail part of the business. Sure, we offered delivery and take-out, but that was such a small portion of our sales. I had built a retail experience where people from near and far came to eat edible cookie dough exactly how they craved it. We had two stores, one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn, which employed over 55 people. We have two production facilities; an online business shipping cookie dough nationwide; a wholesale arm that supplies stores, restaurants, and other retail establishments with treats; and a catering vertical for customizable treats for celebrations of all sizes. And while business and sales were nearly at a complete halt, we still had bills. We had payroll to pay, vendors we owed, services we were contractually obligated to continue, rent, utilities, insurance, and none of that was stopping.
How were we going to do this? And for how long will this go on? No one knew.
As an entrepreneur, this certainly wasn't my first-time facing challenges. But this was unprecedented. Unimaginable. Unbelievable. Certainly unplanned. This control-freak type-A gal was unraveling. I had to make decisions quickly. What was best for my team? For my business? For the safety of my staff? For the city? For my family and unborn baby (oh, yeah, throw being 28 weeks pregnant and all those fun hormones in there, it's real interesting!). Everything was spiraling out of control.
I decided to take the advice I had given to many people over the years — focus on the things you can control. There's no point worrying about all the things you have no control over. If you focus there, you'll just continue spiraling into a deeper, darker hole. Let it go. Once you shift your perspective, you can move forward. It's not going to be easy; the challenges still exist. But you can control certain things, so focus your energy and attention on those.
So that's what I did. I chose, for the safety of staff and customers, to close the retail portion completely — it wasn't worth the take-out and delivery volume to staff the store, open ourselves up to more germs and human contact than absolutely necessary.
I went back to our mission and the reason I started the business in the first place — to spread joy. How could we continue to bring happiness to people during this uncertain time? That's our purpose. With millions of people across the globe stuck inside, working from home, quarantined with their families, how can we reach them since they can't come to us? So I thought back to how and why we got started.
Baking, for me, has always been a type of therapy. I could get lost in the mixing bowl and forget about everything else for a moment in time. Sure, I have a huge sweet tooth, but it's about the process. It's about taking all of these different ingredients and mixing them together to create something magically sweet and special. It's about creating and being creative with the simple things. It's about allowing people to indulge in something that brings them joy — a lick from the spatula or a big batch of cookies.
It's about joy in the moment and sharing that joy with others. So my focus is back on that, and it feels good.
We could still ship nationwide, straight to people's doorstep. So we are making it easier and less expensive to send the ultimate comfort food (edible cookie dough) by introducing a reduced shipping rate, and deals on some of our best-selling packages.
In a way for us, it feels like we are going back in time… back to our roots. When I first started the business, we were only shipping nationwide. There were no stores, no big team, no wholesale. It was just me, a small crew juggling it all, and we made it work then. And we'll make it work again. We have to leverage our online business and hope it floats us through this time.
We are focusing our digital content strategy on sharing recipes, activities, and at-home treats with our engaged, amazing social following so they bake with their families and stay busy at-home. We started live baking tutorials where our fans can bake-along with me and I can share all the tips and tricks I've learned over the years with them.
I've leveraged the cookbook I published last year, Hello, Cookie Dough: 110 Doughlicious Confections to Eat, Bake & Share, to come up with fun content and additional things to do at home. We started shipping it and our at-home baking mixes for free to encourage people to get busy in their kitchens!
And as a business, we will continue to connect with our community to bring them joy and focus on what we can control, including our attitude and outlook first.
During times of uncertainty, which this certainly is, you should do the same. Identify the things you can control and focus your time and energy on those things. Distract yourself with the positive. Force yourself to stop asking and worrying about all the what-ifs. Do what you can for the moment and then the next moment. Make a list, and take it day-by-day.
It's going to be okay. You will be okay. We will all be okay.