Hacks Newsletter – Week 54 – Tina Tchen Diversity Hacks


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For this week’s Hacks the Newsletter, we interview Tina Tchen, former Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, and currently, President and CEO of TIME’S UP Now.  Tina has spent her career advancing gender equality, particularly for working women.  She has served on numerous strategic advisory boards for organizations, businesses, and nonprofits, including the United State of Women, which she continues to co-chair.  

Tina’s Equality Hacks:


AJR:  What advice would you give to people who want to further the causes of equality for women and POC, but might find the topics difficult to talk about?
TT:  One thing that people can do is be a good colleague and bystander. You can support your fellow workers — by listening to their viewpoints and speaking out if you see something problematic happening. For instance, sometimes managers may not know a phrase is offensive or an observation that’s counter to people’s experiences. “Calling in” leaders in your workplace to be more attuned to this in the future can go a long way. 

And if you’re a leader of an organization, you have a responsibility to set the culture from the top — by working to dismantle the barriers that have held women and people of color back from reaching their full potential. This includes small fixes, like making sure your people have the tools and flexibility they need to balance caregiving needs and other responsibilities, and longer-term changes, like offering permanent paid sick days and paid family and medical leave to all employees. 

Finally, learn more — especially about topics you find difficult. Read about history, racial injustice, and gender discrimination — or watch films about these topics. Learn about the lives of people who have had different life experiences than you and make that a lifelong practice.


AJR:  What do you feel is the greatest threat to women’s equality at this time in our history?  And what do you feel is the greatest opportunity?
TT:  The health and economic crises have led to a caregiving crisis, leaving women at a breaking point and forcing thousands of them to leave the workforce. For too long, we have treated caregiving as a problem employees need to figure out on their own, but we have to realize it’s on policymakers and employers to solve this issue and invest in our workforce. 

Many women are leaving the workforce because they don’t have a choice with schools out and with loved ones who may be sick — or because they are sick themselves. Leaders across every sector, and at the state and national level, have a window of opportunity right now to advocate for the structural changes we need to rebuild our workplaces so they work for everyone. That includes guaranteeing fair wages for caregivers; providing paid leave and affordable child and long-term care; and eliminating the gender wage gap. 

AJR:  What advice would you give to business leaders about attracting more diversity within their companies? 
TT:  Business leaders need to understand that people are voting with their feet — even during a pandemic. Our TIME’S UP Survey this summer found that one in five Black women has left a job because of a sexist or racist culture. Here are a few things they can do to address that:

  • Leaders need to create safe spaces where people are respected and can discuss external issues and the different impacts the pandemic is having on them. For instance, Black Lives Matter and police brutality. Diversity is manifesting itself right now — not just in the color of our skin and gender, but in our situation at home or neighborhoods. 

  • Diversity and inclusion must go hand in hand. If you’re a woman or person of color (or both), you are probably all-too-familiar with someone speaking over you at meetings or having others pay attention to your ideas only when a white male colleague says them. Paying attention to these instances — stopping the meeting altogether, calling on your employees and acknowledging their ideas, and listening to them — can set a tone for other employers to follow.

  • Leaders must also expand their recruiting pool and look at their pay and promotion practices to ensure fairness. When an employer asks about a prospective employee’s salary history, they can send messages in the hiring process on how they care about it. Basing someone’s salary on their prior job is one of the practices that perpetuate unequal pay because that prior job was probably unequal already.

Finally, they can text LEADERS to 306-44 to download “TIME’S UP’s Guide to Equity & Inclusion During Crisis” and work with us to make workplaces safe, fair, and truly equitable. 

AJR:  What are your key takeaways from the results of the 2020 General Elections?
TT:  Black voters have been a cornerstone of democracy for decades and we saw it in stark relief in this election. The civic engagement of Black women, in particular, not only propelled the first Black and Asian woman to the White House, but my hope is that it will propel action on new priorities in the administration — such as putting health, economic security, and well-being of working women and families first.

Voting is just the first step. It’s so important to stay engaged, hold our public officials accountable, and continue to speak out on the issues that affect our communities. That’s why we can’t let up. After all, to paraphrase Gloria Steinem, the most dangerous time is after a win — that’s when the backlash happens. 

So take some time to relax and celebrate the holidays with your family. But then get back to work to make sure that the issues that you care about get addressed — in your statehouse, your city council, Congress, and the White House. 

That’s what we are doing at TIME’S UP. We’re working to make sure that the issues confronting working women and working families, such as the caregiving crisis and persistent sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination are addressed by elected officials and private sector leaders. Building safe, fair, and equitable workplaces for everyone must be part of our economic recovery.

AJR:  As a woman who shattered many glass ceilings herself, what does Kamala Harris’ election as Vice President mean to you? To TIME’s UP Now?
TT:  It is truly a gift to be able to witness seeing the American people elect a woman of color as Vice President of the United States. A lot of little girls and women saw ourselves in her for the first time — the first Black and Asian woman to be elected vice president. 

But this is a win for all Americans. When we have leaders who actually reflect and represent us, the interests and perspectives of our communities are no longer relegated to the fringes — they become reflected in our public policy. Recently, member-elect Cori Bush from Missouri and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York had an exchange on Twitter about thrift-shopping clothes to wear to Congress, since nice clothes are so expensive. It reminded me that former President Barack Obama and Mrs. Obama had only paid off their student loans right before he was elected to the Senate. 

Before Sen. Harris was selected as the Democratic vice presidential nominee, TIME’S UP Now and our allies launched the ‘We Have Her Back’ campaign to hold the media accountable for sexist and racist attacks against her and other women leaders. I am so proud of our watchdog effort during the campaign, but the name-calling doesn’t just stop when women are elected. We have to remain vigilant now and in the years ahead to prevent these false and demeaning narratives about women leaders from taking hold. 

AJR:  What is your favorite memory from your years working in the White House?
TT:  There are too many to pick a favorite, but I remember vividly the day President Obama addressed the nation on the Supreme Court decision upholding marriage equality. At that moment, I was standing on Air Force One, besides civil rights titans Rep. John Lewis and Rep. Elijah Cummings — both of whom we lost recently — watching the first Black President of the United States address the nation on a historic win for marriage equality. This moment crystallized the fact that the fights for racial equity, for gender equity, and for LGBTQIA+ rights are all interdependent. And though at times we still encounter serious setbacks, together we are making gains every day.


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