Time is up on sexual harassment, assault and inequality in the workplace. In our new interview series, ‘Empowering Women in Arts and Entertainment’ we are partnering with TIME’S UP Foundation to feature and celebrate women who are striving to make a difference in our industry. For our first installment, we spoke to Ngoc Nguyen, a strategist, producer and publicist with over two decades of experience that encompasses entertainment, sports and philanthropy. As the Head of Entertainment for the organization, Nguyen oversees strategy, talent relations, and programming, including initiatives that advocate for women across the industry.
What first drew you to becoming an Impact Strategist and now, Head of Entertainment for TIME’S UP Foundation? How was the climate for women when you first started?
I was a longtime entertainment publicist, who wanted to work across multiple industries, wear different strategic hats, and produce work that would not only be entertaining, but also have social impact. At the time, no one was really doing all of these things concurrently, so I was (unbeknownst to me) drawing a unique roadmap by combining my expertise as a publicist and my experience as a producer to impact culture. I feel all of those different experiences serendipitously led me to where I am now, as the Head of Entertainment at TIME’S UP Foundation, where I oversee all of our entertainment strategy, talent relations, and programming.
As a woman, what is the biggest hurdle you have faced in becoming successful in your industry, and/or what are some of the key issues that women face in your profession?
I was incredibly lucky because marketing and publicity departments are primarily populated by women, and there were several women, particularly women of color, who were great mentors to me. However, PR is a small cog in the wheel of entertainment, so I was still often one of only a few women in the room, and I was always the only Asian person in the room. With that, for me, came a sense of not always feeling confident to speak up, whether it was to give my expert opinion on a campaign or advocate for myself and ask for a promotion. Given that so few women are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, it makes me think that I’m not alone in feeling those things. But more broadly, it highlights the fact that there’s a broken system that keeps women from moving up at the same rate as men do.
What is the best piece of advice a female peer or superior gave you, specifically relating to being a female in your profession?
The best advice I ever received was to be my own best advocate, but to stay open to possibilities that I may not have considered. I kept saying no to a job that I thought wasn’t the best fit for my long-term goals but, I ultimately decided to take a leap of faith – and it turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
As a woman working in your industry, are there benefits to having a female supervisor or mentor?
The trajectory of my career completely changed because I had great women mentors, who not only gave me the exposure to key lessons, but the experience to learn from them firsthand. The best supervisors I had shared both their struggles and successes with me and made a conscious choice to be my loudest champions.
Have you personally helped to drive positive change for women in your industry or have you seen others do so?
My life completely changed because of a meaningful internship and a great mentor, so I have always tried to pay it forward in similar ways. At most companies that I have worked, I’ve volunteered to develop and manage the internship program and have hired over 75 interns over the course of my career, many of whom I still stay in touch with.
What piece of advice would you give someone starting out in an entry-level role in your industry?
Work hard, be kind, and KEEP IN TOUCH. Nurturing the relationships that I make along the way has single-handedly kept me employed for all these years.
Earlier this year, TIME’S UP released a Guide to Working in Entertainment with practical ways entertainment professionals can advocate for themselves and their safety. How would you advise someone who is struggling to report harassment or discrimination?
If they are looking for help connecting with a lawyer to talk over their legal options, they can reach out to the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund. If the person needs other kinds of support – a hotline, someone for emotional support – there is a list of resources here.
What are some positive changes you’ve seen take place, since the #MeToo movement gained traction and TIME’S UP was launched, to combat workplace sexual misconduct and harassment in the entertainment industry?
Through our entertainment industry initiatives, we’ve helped empower workers with their rights, advocated for more women filmmakers, women in production, and pushed for greater inclusion at film festivals and among diverse critics and journalists. But we’re still just at the beginning of our work, and there is so much more that needs to be done to address the systemic issues that enable sexual harassment, including upending the imbalances of power and inequities that hold women back across our industry.
What do you think is still missing in the entertainment industry regarding representation, equity, safety, and accountability?
The multiple and simultaneous crises we’ve recently experienced have only reinforced the fact that women, particularly women of color, are disproportionately and devastatingly impacted. Between January and December 2020, more than 2.1 million women left the labor force, including 605,000 Black women and 382,000 Latinas. In addition, 8 in 10 voters say unsupported caregiving is a huge burden for families (GSG) and a third of voters and half of parents say their responsibilities increased (LRP/PU). Within the entertainment industry, the pandemic has shut productions down completely and women are now being overlooked or having to leave their jobs altogether to be the primary caregivers at home. We need to ensure that women are supported, respected, and afforded equal opportunities.
What further changes do you hope to see in your profession in the future?
I hope that we will reach a moment when people can feel safe going to work and trust that they are being treated fairly – and where specific mandates for inclusion are not necessary, but simply second nature.