After a month of brutal headlines, Times Up CEO Tina Tichen resigned on Thursday, leaving deep questions about the organization’s mission and values and whether it can continue in its current form.
Tchen, a former corporate attorney who served as Michelle Obama’s chief of staff, followed a theory of change that relied on a comfortable relationship with a strong personality. The organization’s board – mostly their own – now has to decide if this is still the right way to serve the #MeToo movement.
“They need to ask themselves as an organization,” said Elizabeth Sering, a professor of nonprofit management at the University of Texas at Dallas. “It’s important to remember that it’s not a movement.
The Times Up Gov faced a thorough investigation after New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s report was published in August, which showed that the group coordinated with Cuomo’s office in response to allegations of sexual harassment. For an organization committed to supporting survivors, this was a curse, and it led to the resignation of Co-Chair Roberta Kaplan, who also worked closely with the Kuomo administration.
Subsequent reports in the New York Times and the Washington Post also detail Tichen’s involvement in instructing the group to “step aside” from issuing a statement in support of former Kuomo colleague Lindsay Boylan, who came forward last December. The post also reported in a text message, where Tichen disbelieved Boylan’s account, saying it was “everywhere.” Tichen told the Post that he wanted to imply that Boylan’s story was widely publicized, not that he suspected it.
Many survivors have been urging Chechen to resign for weeks. Despite the board’s strong support, the story of the post proved too much for him to endure. In his statement on Thursday, Tichen said he had become a “painful and divisive focal point” and therefore it was best for him to move forward. But he also defended his vision for change, saying it was important to have access to power corridors.
“Change happens when we run companies to formulate policies to make them better for women and other workers, and when we legislate for gender equality and safety,” she wrote. “And change only happens when we hold them accountable when needed … The Times Up advocacy was based on that, we can’t shout out for change without the help of companies, government leaders and policymakers.”
The Times Up is expected to hire a consultant to help solve some of his problems. But in the end it is up to the board to decide the course ahead. If it sticks to Tichen’s approach to working closely with strong organizations, it needs to figure out how to better manage inevitable conflicts.
Terry Behrens, executive director of the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, argued that the board should spend some time thinking deeply about their shared mission and values and should be clear about it before moving forward.
“They talk about trying to change the organizational culture,” he said. “But it has slipped into this personal relationship, where they are supporting the individual instead of trying to create a more supportive culture.”
Searing argued that better work needs to be done to protect the organization from conflicts of interest and the presence of conflicts. When Kaplan was contacted for help with Cuomo’s response, he and the Times Up should have acknowledged that such a request could damage the team’s reputation.
“Then you tell your friend, ‘It’s something I can’t do … I can’t have this conversation,'” Sierring said. “This line could have saved them a lot of grief: ‘I can’t have this conversation with you.’
GLAAD, the Gay Advocacy Organization, has also maintained that internal-external line, but has done well enough to survive 36 years. Neil Giuliano, former president of GLAAD, echoed Tichen’s argument that working closely with the organization is essential, although he acknowledged that these relationships are sometimes criticized.
“We were close to them because we were educating and training them,” he said. “You can’t do all this by slapping people for doing bad things. You have to go to their culture and understand their culture to change their culture. ”
At the same time, he argued, you have to draw the line and hold people accountable.
“You have to make mistakes when you work,” Giuliano said. At the end of the day, he said, “You can only do one thing, and that is what you say in public, without compromise.”
Searing suggested that a change of leadership would be good for the organization and that it wants to bring in new board members who can say “no” when needed.
“It’s possible to come back from such a situation,” he said.
But, he added, the board might try to split or break up completely.
“I’m sure it’s a great organization, but I don’t think everything would be ruined if it went under,” Searing said.