By Ellen McGirt
Updated: January 4, 2018 3:37 PM ET

Happy New Year, raceAhead readers. I hope you’re buckled in.

If anyone thought the Me Too era was set to merely flash bright and flame out with some Twitter perp walks and weak haggles over “Matt Lauer money,” then some very powerful women would like to have a word.

Time’s Up is a brand new alliance of over 300 women who work in the entertainment industry, who have joined forces to address sexual abuse and correct the widespread imbalance of power for women in entertainment and beyond. Their ranks include the very powerful and the very vocal: Viola Davis, America Ferrera, Jane Fonda, Roxane Gay, Rashida Jones, Eva Longoria, Shonda Rhimes, Gloria Steinem, Emma Stone, Meryl Streep, Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon.

“The struggle for women to break in, to rise up the ranks and to simply be heard and acknowledged in male-dominated workplaces must end; time’s up on this impenetrable monopoly,” says their opening salvo, a letter in the New York Times and Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión.

There are many notable things about this effort, the least of which is the call for famous women to wear black on the many red carpets they walk. In addition to tackling issues of harassment, they are planning to support initiatives addressing the underrepresentation of women in the C-Suite and pay inequity.

But it began with an immediate declaration of intersectional support.

“At one of our most difficult and vulnerable moments, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (the National Farmworker Women’s Alliance) sent us a powerful and compassionate message of solidarity for which we are deeply grateful,” they wrote. What followed was a pledge to remember the low wage worker, every ag worker, housekeeper, janitor, waitress, factory worker or home health aide who has been harassed and wants to fight for change.

And the group is prepared to do battle. A crowd-funded legal defense fund has been established that will provide subsidized support to women and men who have been harassed, assaulted or otherwise abused in the workplace. They’ve nearly reached their goal of $15 million. Leading the legal effort is Tina Tchen, former chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama and Roberta Kaplan, who successfully argued before the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.

Their first test case is in support of a small business owner named Melanie Kohler, one of the first #MeToo women to post allegations of assault against director Brett Ratner. Her Facebook post, about an incident ten years ago, earned her a call from Ratner’s lawyer, threatening a lawsuit. Despite a subsequent Los Angeles Times piece in which six other women, including actor Olivia Munn, made similarly upsetting allegations, Ratner opted to sue only Kohler, who now runs a scuba shop in Hawaii.

Yesterday, Roberta Kaplan filed a motion to dismiss Ratner’s libel suit.

You don’t have to be a lawyer to see where she’s heading: “Mr. Ratner is a powerful, well-known Hollywood director and producer. He has filed this defamation lawsuit with a single purpose: To silence and intimidate Ms. Kohler — and other women like her — from coming forward with stories of grave sexual mistreatment at his hands. This case thus raises significant First Amendment concerns.”

I asked Joelle Emerson, the CEO of Paradigm, a rapidly growing consulting start-up that works to help companies be more inclusive, what she thinks of the effort. Before she became a consultant, Emerson was a busy women’s rights lawyer, who focused on litigating harassment. She thinks Times Up can make a difference and applauds their broad focus. “I think what’s often missing about harassment is how it manifests in different types of workforces.” The scale of their work could have an impact, and as a group, they certainly know how to tell a compelling story. “I represented immigrants and low wage workers, and people don’t understand how they’re treated.”

But the group’s bigger goals of inclusion shouldn’t be overlooked, she says. “[Solving harassment] isn’t just about avoiding lawsuits,” she says. “’How do we help organizations make the connection between harassment and culture?’ That’s the key,” she says. “It’s about understanding that companies have the power to change their cultures while continuing to innovate.”


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