As the first president and CEO of Time’s Up, Lisa Borders is turning the movement into something more. 

By Laura Norkin
Jan 11, 2019 @ 9:00 am
Borders in Stuart Weitzman pumps. All clothing and jewelry, her own. Photographed by Jeremy Liebman.

Last November, more than 20,000 Google employees around the globe walked out of work in protest after a New York Times article revealed that the search giant had paid hefty exit packages to two male executives (most notably, $90 million to Android founder Andy Rubin) accused of sexual misconduct. Google otherwise did little to litigate the claims, though it would go on to review its workplace policies once the public outcry became international news. The media immediately turned to Lisa Borders, the newly minted leader of Time’s Up, to comment on this abuse of power. It was her first day on the job. 

“We were born out of tragedy, to be fair,” says Borders, 61, referring to the watershed moment at the start of 2018, when 300 of Hollywood’s brightest stars and executives were joined by a union of 700,000 female farmworkers to say enough was enough. “I think in our minds we go, ‘Oh, it’s just these traditional industries,'" she says. “Then you get something like [what happened at] Google. Perhaps it was unrealistic, but we expected their behavior to be better, of a higher order, and it wasn’t.” 

That trial-by-fire experience tapped directly into the skills Borders honed at her previous high-level positions: president of the Atlanta City Council (she even ran for mayor in 2009), vice president of global community affairs at Coca-Cola, and president of the WNBA for three seasons. “Call that my training camp, if you will,” says Borders of the latter. “That’s where I developed even more muscle memory and muscle mass around this notion of fighting on behalf of women.” Borders is so connected to the players that, to this day, she won’t reveal her favorite team, as if they were her kids. She says her actual son, 36-year-old Dijon Bowden, is her “2.0.” She considers him “a better version [of me] than I would ever be: more competent, confident, and compassionate.” 

RELATED: A Complete Timeline of the Time's Up Movement

It would be hard to imagine someone more compassionate than Borders, with her no-nonsense yet endearing conversational style. So when she speaks about the “bad behavior” in the workplace that is still holding too many women back, you know she’s dedicated to fixing it. 

“Bringing people together to know that they’re not alone is job one,” she says, adding that of the workers Time’s Up is helping, 40 percent are people of color and 60 percent identify as low-income. To date, the organization has brought on 800 attorneys to help those who can’t afford to hire counsel. This is paid for by Time’s Up’s Legal Defense Fund at the National Women’s Law Center, which has amassed $22 million in donations on GoFundMe — the most ever raised on the platform. “That sounds like a lot of money until you look at the depth and the breadth of the problem,” says Borders. “We have had 3,500 people reach out to us. There are some 60 cases underway, ranging from the cashier at a dollar store in Brooklyn to female paramedics in Chicago.”  

RELATED: Lisa Borders Has a Message for Men

Borders explains that Time’s Up has a three-pronged approach to solving such an impossibly large problem, which is to look at companies, culture, and laws. “Laws are really the place where you can find discrete legislation that we would invite folks to consider changing,” she says. “I served as an elected official, so I understand that federal law trumps state, and state trumps city, but you have to start somewhere.”

For those who think Time’s Up is little more than a Hollywood fad, think again. The organization is entering its second year and has already lined up dedicated task forces focused on helping those who work in journalism, advertising, and venture capital, and it is planning to expand into new categories soon. In each field Time’s Up is taking down the same foe: “the patriarchy — the status quo,” Borders says. “There are entrenched mind-sets and behaviors that have been acceptable for hundreds of years. And that sounds small, but it is ginormous.” 

There have also been some more surprising challenges. Like, she says, “sisters who do not stand with us. I did not expect that there are some women who have arguably benefited from the patriarchy [who should] share that power with others but have not.”

Whatever comes next, Borders is ready. “Women from all across the globe have raised their hands and used the #MeToo hashtag,” she says, adding that Time’s Up is a natural extension of the #MeToo movement. “They want to move from a place of survivorship to empowerment. They’re saying, ‘I have my own personal power; now let’s make that a collective power.'" 

Photographed by Jeremy Liebman. Sittings editor: Laurel Pantin. Makeup: Joanna Simkin.

For more stories like this, pick up the February issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Jan 18.