Success & Leadership

Women Making History: with Time’s Up Co-Founder Nina Shaw

Nina Shaw

Show Notes:

It’s Women’s History Month, and we’re talking to a woman who’s been making history for decades: renowned entertainment attorney and co-founding organizer of Time’s Up, Nina Shaw.

As one of Hollywood’s most powerful dealmakers, Nina has been elevating the voices of women everywhere. This special, candid conversation explores the past, present and future of gender equality in the workplace.

Part inspiration and part actionable takeaways, learn how to break the unique barriers you face, have influence with impact, and pave the path forward for generations of women to come.

“I remember one day I walked into a conference room and there was a older gentleman I had been negotiating with [over the phone] for an extended period of time. I walked over to him and he looked at me and he said, ‘I’ll have my coffee with two sugars.’ And I called the receptionist and said, ‘Mr. So-And-So would like a coffee with two sugars.’ And then I sat down at the head of the table.”—Nina Shaw


 

This Month’s Guest:

NINA SHAW is a founding partner in the entertainment law firm of Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano. She began her legal career in the entertainment department of the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers. She is a recipient of the WIF Crystal Award, and has been named Entertainment Lawyer of the Year by the Beverly Hills Bar Association. In 2016, she was profiled in the New York Times: “She’s the Hollywood Power Behind Those Seeking a Voice.” In 2019, Shaw received Columbia Law School’s prestigious Medal for Excellence Award, the Athena Film Festival Athena Award and the NAACP LDF National Equal Justice Award. She is currently vice president of the board of directors of the Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs and is among the founding organizers of Time’s Up. Shaw is a graduate of Barnard College and Columbia Law School.

 

Our Host:

CELESTE HEADLEE is a communication and human nature expert, and an award-winning journalist. She is a professional speaker, and also the author of Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving, Heard Mentality and We Need to Talk. In her twenty-year career in public radio, she has been the executive producer of On Second Thought at Georgia Public Radio, and anchored programs including Tell Me More, Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. She also served as cohost of the national morning news show The Takeaway from PRI and WNYC, and anchored presidential coverage in 2012 for PBS World Channel. Headlee’s TEDx talk sharing ten ways to have a better conversation has over twenty million total views to date. @CelesteHeadlee

 


 

Additional Resources:


 

Nina Shaw & Celeste Headlee Interview Transcript:

Celeste Headlee:
We’re very excited that you’re with us; you have made history throughout your career. You will, I’m sure, continue to blaze trails for women and especially women of color. And I wonder as you look back so far, what’s ended up to be the most meaningful accomplishment for you?

Nina Shaw:
I think we tend to look at our accomplishments in terms of what have been the big impacts. And as I thought about this in preparation for our talk today, I think when you really break it down, I think the thing that I am most proud of in my life is that I have lived a life and I have managed in my work to live a life that is in keeping with the principles that I was raised in and the things that are important to me and really the legacy of the people who shaped me.

Nina Shaw:
Who are not famous people and who might have in retrospect not had great life accomplishments. But so pervasive is the impact that they had on me, my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother. I feel that I have honored the things that they believed in, in the life that I’ve led. And that may feel a little touchy feely, but it really is when I think of it, my greatest accomplishment as a person.

Nina Shaw:
And I wanted to say that because I think often when we’re listening to programs like this, and you’re speaking of people who have accomplishments that might not feel quite obtainable in your everyday life, that to remember that all of us have people that we love and admire, who have influenced who we are and if we can be the best person in a way that would make those people proud, then I think we’ve all accomplished something.

Celeste Headlee:
When did you realize that your work as a lawyer had to include work in civil rights and empowerment?

Nina Shaw:
Well, I have to tell you, I somewhat envy people who get to just go to their offices and do their work. But I think when you’re a person of color and particularly you’re a Black woman, every single aspect of your life is permeated by that. It’s baked into your DNA. No one ever just reacts to you as a lawyer. I can remember—because my practice covers a time before the internet—that I would have to almost prepare people for the shock that they were going to get when they saw me. Because there wasn’t the internet to look me up and see that I was an African-American woman.

Nina Shaw:
And I’d always remember if I was going into a conference of a big group of people to walk in the door and I’d say, “Hi everyone, it’s Nina. So glad to get to meet all of you in person.” Because I knew walking in the door that they would think I was the receptionist or I was there to bring them coffee, if I didn’t remember to introduce myself. And I remember one day I walked into a conference room and there was an older gentleman who I had been negotiating with [over the phone] for an extended period of time. But he was on the phone. And so I didn’t do my usual introduction.

Nina Shaw:
And I walked over to him and he looked at me and he said, “I’ll have my coffee with two sugars.” And I called the receptionist, who was the person in our firm at that time who would get coffee. And I said “Mr. So-And-So would like a coffee with two sugars.” And then I sat down at the head of the table. And it clicked for him. Of course, he heard my voice, which he had heard on the telephone many times. So I say that to say that there was never a moment in time when I could distance being a person of color from the work that I did. It just never occurred to me. It just didn’t exist.

Celeste Headlee:
How do you keep your temper in those situations? We hear from so many women who become angry, who quit, who leave in so many industries where women and particularly women of color have been driven out of different industries, including my own journalism.

Nina Shaw:
Of course.

Celeste Headlee:
Because holding their tongue, swallowing it, was too much. How do you cope?

Nina Shaw:
Well, I always try to play the long game. And one of my partners told me something many years ago when we first started working together. He said if you think you’re smarter than the person you’re negotiating with and they get the better of you then you’re not smarter. And so I’m always trying to figure out how to get to the result that I want.

Nina Shaw:
And sometimes that means that you don’t react in the moment. But it does take a lot of self control. I think it also takes a level of wellness outside of work. Everyone who knows me well knows I’m a big yoga person. But I’m also very much into taking care of myself and not letting the stress from work slide over or spill over into other parts of my life. But it’s hard.

Nina Shaw:
And I think I also have a bit of a privilege and luxury that especially as I’ve become more mature in my practice and become such a well-known person within my industry and outside of it, is that people are often deferential to me in a way that they weren’t early in my career. And so I run into fewer instances of outright hostility. But there was a lot of outright hostility early on. And I take a deep breath. I strategize, I’m always thinking, how am I going to get what the client deserves and needs?

Celeste Headlee:
I wonder if you have tips for people to speak up when they need to. And I’ll give you a little context of the question, which is, we know through research that people of color and especially women of color are more likely to be punished when they bring up issues of inequity or inclusion. They’re more likely to be ignored. They’re more likely to be viewed as rude when they bring up those issues, as opposed to a white person of high status, that’s the person best placed to bring up those issues. So how do women do this? How do they achieve that balance of bringing up these issues without being punished in the workplace?

Nina Shaw:
It’s extraordinarily difficult. And often in instances where people who are most in need of remedy, often find it the most difficult because the system that they’re in is so aggressively antagonistic. One of the things that I often try to do in my discussions about issues like this is use “we” speak. Where I talk less about the personal situation, and I talk about more about the organization: in that “I’m concerned that we’re not sending the right message. I’m concerned that we’re not living up to the things that we believe in.”

Nina Shaw:
“I’m concerned that we’re not running the business in the way that we want. I’m concerned that we’re not getting the best from the people here from all of us, that all of us are not allowed to do our best.” I often try to couch issues of inequity in those terms. And one of the things, I mean, your first question to me about things that I’m very proud of not outward facing, but inward facing in my world. I’m very, very proud of my skills as a person who runs a business. And I hope that this will have some meaning even to the business owners who are listening to this.

Nina Shaw:
And that I work really, really hard to set a tone and a standard in our business and our law firm, that really values everyone. So even when I vehemently disagree with my partners or with others in the firm, I always try to approach those disagreements from the standpoint of inclusiveness. So, we’ve had a lot of discussions during the pandemic as an example, about people whose attention is split. Primarily working parents, who are trying to oversee their children’s education and also trying to do their work within the workday.

Nina Shaw:
And it’s basically impossible when it comes down to it. They can’t do two things at once. And the time that they have to give to their children and overseeing their children’s education is very specific. It has to be done during a certain time. It has to be done within certain parameters. So there’s always a lot of discussion about how to help those people, how to cover the work that they’re not often able to do. And there have been people, especially people who don’t have children within the organization who have, I don’t want to use the word resentful because that’s too strong, but a kind of lack of empathy.

Nina Shaw:
And I find myself when we’re discussing it saying, “What kind of people do we want to be? We all care about children. Most of us have been parents or guardians or caregivers. How would we want to be treated in this particular situation and how can we be leaders? How can we be the firm that’s different?” So I don’t know that that’s as complete an answer and perhaps on some level people who feel that they don’t have power are still going to feel that they’re not quite there. But if you can lean even a little bit from that in terms of how to turn it into a bigger issue as opposed to a singular issue. Does that make sense?

Celeste Headlee:
I think so. I want to delve a little bit further because you have talked about gaining inspiration. I mean, you represent a lot of celebrity and very high powered clients. And yet you’ve talked about gaining inspiration from women who have almost no visibility, like an Alliance of Latina Farm Workers. What are you learning from these women who really are not empowered and aren’t able to get headlines and attention?

Nina Shaw:
They may not be empowered in the traditional ways that we look at power. They may not be able to, by virtue of their social media, to bring great alliances to their cause. But I think their inherent power starts with their belief in themselves and their belief in their mission. When those 700,000 I should say, let me put a little context here. There’s a very well-known letter written by the Alliance of Women of Latina Farm Workers.

Nina Shaw:
They wrote it to the Hollywood community in the light of specifically the Harvey Weinstein revelations, but just the general nature of our business, which had been so extraordinarily difficult for women. And they wrote that from a position of power that no one sat there and said, “Who are we? Because we don’t have the public face of these Hollywood actors. Who are we to write them? Who are we to offer ourselves in Alliance with them?”

Nina Shaw:
The fact that someone was empowered to write that letter and to express those sentiments really does show that these are people of great power. So I think it’s a matter of definition and what have I learned from them? I’ve learned that it all comes from inside and that much of how you feel about yourself and what you’re able to project to the world is what the world will see. So when I think of those women and I’ve come now to be able to put names and faces with this letter, I think of them as women who are among the women who have taught me the greatest lessons in my life. And that lesson is to stand up for yourself.

Celeste Headlee:
That’s not always easy though. And as you say, you are very well known now and successful, but you have told stories about earlier on in your career getting into a one argument with the lawyer at 20th Century Fox, and he threw something at you, right?

Nina Shaw:
Yes. A file.

Celeste Headlee:
A file. But from what I understand a really big, heavy file that you had to duck.

Nina Shaw:
Yeah. First of all, that was a very… There was a time in the workforce where those kinds of, now someone who… First of all, it would never happen. Not just because we don’t have files anymore, but it just would never happen. The person would be too in fear of losing their job—and that’s progress. But at the time it happened, I think one of the sad things about women like myself who were in the workforce in places that traditionally were only occupied by men, is that we were kind of the first wave that bore the brunt of a lot of inappropriate behavior.

Nina Shaw:
Not just inappropriate behavior in terms of sexual harassment and all the other things that go with gender, but just inappropriate things that people said in the workforce to each other. Men said things to each other that were inappropriate. There was a lot of use of profanity. There was a lot of use of, I heard the C word more than one time in a meeting. That would never happen in a modern business environment where there was accountability. And in most businesses there is accountability.

Nina Shaw:
And so how would I deal with it? First of all, I grew up in a system where I come to expect that behavior. So it wasn’t shocking to me that someone might throw a file at me or refer to me in a derogatory way. I was prepared for it. Just getting to where I got to in my work life was so difficult that those things honestly seemed like small things in the overall scheme of the day-to-day aggressions that I dealt with.

Nina Shaw:
And that’s something that I would never want to go back to. There’s no pride in having lived through it in the sense of, it made me a better person. It was just an unfortunate situation that no worker should have been exposed to. And that the goal of all of us now is to make sure that workers don’t continue to be exposed to those kinds of situations.

Celeste Headlee:
I mean, it’s difficult because at the same time that we’re talking about the progress that has been made, and there’s no doubt that progress has been made. We’re also getting these reports just coming out now of unfriendly environments, especially for women. And I’m sure this is what you deal with all the time in your work for Time’s Up. Accusations against people as powerful as Joss Whedon of bullying and diminishing, dehumanizing behavior.

Nina Shaw:
Yes.

Celeste Headlee:
And so I can imagine for people that are hearing this, it may not feel like we’ve made that much progress. It may be difficult to hear someone say it used to be worse. How do you respond to, I guess, the exhaustion that some people feel in this fight?

Nina Shaw:
Well, let me just say one thing kind of in answering that. ‘It used to be worse,’ Celeste is not a answer to, ‘so now it’s okay?’ There’s no excuse for what happened. There’s also no excuse for what continues to happen. And it is exhausting. And there are days when I do feel that we’re just up against something that is impenetrable. But I also now have, as many of us have, the benefit of communities that do support us.

Nina Shaw:
They are concentric in a sense of, for me, they start with the women around me, the women of Time’s Up. The women of my partners and others in my workplace, the women in my family. And a group of men who genuinely believe in this and we have to make more and more men understand that this is to their benefit. It’s not like the workplace was so great for them. They spend a lot of in it. They were often estranged from their family and children.

Nina Shaw:
I came into workplace and it was somewhat joking that I will look at people and I will realize that I’ve known them through several marriages. And that was… I would meet men who, in their second or third marriage, they’re trying to raise children so that they could have relationships with them that they didn’t have with their older children. And there was such a sadness about that and it’s kind of that cat in the cradle moment.

Celeste Headlee:
Yeah.

Nina Shaw:
And that happened a lot and that’s not good for anyone. So how do I keep myself from being demoralized? First of all, I draw strength from the women around me. I recently spoke to Brooke Baldwin—who has a book coming out called Huddle, about women supporting each other and finding strength from women’s networks. And I feel sometimes, especially with white women, that that’s something that they’re coming to now more and more. But I feel for Black women, it has always been the thing that kept us afloat. Because we’ve always been so on the bottom of the group of marginalized people that we had to draw strength from the women around us.

Celeste Headlee:
And Brooke Baldwin is a journalist—she’s been at CNN for a very long time, at least a decade. So do you think that you have had to make a choice between success in your field as a lawyer and success as an activist? Do you see it as in one way as zero sum game where you gave up in one area in order to invest in the other?

Nina Shaw:
They’re so linked to each other that I can’t imagine having given up something. If anything, I think it’s enriched my business. But it does have an impact of such I remember it was I’m still signing clients and I’m enthusiastic about my work. And I have to tell you the one thing I do feel sometimes is that if you know me well, you know how much I love my work. You know how important supporting artists is, you know how much I love the deal making part of it. That’s really what drew me to it. And often that isn’t something that I talk about or is talked about when people describe me.

Nina Shaw:
But I have to tell you, I had someone recently—someone I was meeting with to become a client—who said that they had met with another lawyer who had explained to them that I wasn’t a real lawyer. That really what I was, was an activist and if they wanted someone who would really work for them and do the work that was needed to advance their career. They really needed to go with someone like this other lawyer who didn’t have to spend a lot of their time being an activist-

Celeste Headlee:
Wow.

Nina Shaw:
“Celebrity” is they way they described me. And it’s really funny because I said to the person I was meeting with, I said, “You know what? I will give you a list of business affairs people who your agent or manager can speak to and they will tell you how real a lawyer I am.” So-

Celeste Headlee:
That’s fair. So what do you think, there are a lot of different issues that Time’s Up is sort of tracking and advocating for different reforms. What’s the most urgent, what’s the thing that really needs to happen now?

Nina Shaw:
The workforce has to learn how to support working parents. This pandemic has been devastating for women in the workplace. We have literally lost years of progress. Women have had to leave the workplace and in large numbers because they don’t have Family Leave policies in their workplace. They don’t have the support of the local and federal government. [Government] didn’t make getting children back in schools in a safe way for both the children and teachers and other staff the priority.

Nina Shaw:
I pray one of the things that comes out of this change in administration and it appears to be a real emphasis on supporting women getting children back to school, encouraging employers to have policies that really support and make it possible for you to both work and be a parent. You should not have to choose because typically when we’re talking about a choice the choice gets made by women and that’s not fair. So that’s what I feel is as I sit here in this moment one of the most pressing issues when it comes especially to Time’s Up.

Nina Shaw:
But I think we all have to and many of us are coming to grips with the historical inequities. The level of racism, even among people who wouldn’t see themselves as being racist, but who have perhaps benefited—not perhaps, have benefited from the inequities in our society. So fix the caregiving system and really some level of responsibility for all of us take for educating ourselves in a way that we understand. We really begin to understand American history. One thing I would say is that and I’m thinking about this a lot because it’s Black History Month. And one of the things you always hear during Black History Month is that Black History is American history.

Nina Shaw:
But I’m going to crib something that I think I might’ve a headline I might’ve seen in the Atlantic or one of the other things I read, which is that there’s no American history without Black history. And American history has been taught in many ways without Black history. And everything we’re dealing with now in terms of this notion of misinformation is really built upon a bedrock of the misinformation. That started in the way that we presented the contributions of people of color, Black Americans specifically and women in terms of what we’ve really contributed to the fabric of American society.

Celeste Headlee:
Looking back over not just your client list but your history, I wondered if maybe you’re one of the best people to give advice on how to tell a beloved male in your life that their behavior needs to evolve. In other words, maybe it’s a client, maybe it’s someone who stepped over the line. How do you approach that to point out someone’s behavior that is not inclusive, that is an equitable, maybe it is bullying, maybe it’s unfair, maybe it’s a microaggression. How do you broach that subject?

Nina Shaw:
I’ve actually been in the position of having to broach that subject to a former client. And this was someone who didn’t, the attorney client relationship didn’t end because of anything that’s happened, it ended a number of years ago. But it’s someone who stays in touch with me and who I think has been on the wrong side of a lot of these issues. And I just said to them “If you care about your legacy. I know this isn’t the same argument in terms of within your family. But if you care about your legacy, maybe the argument those grandchildren who you love, if you want them to think about you in a certain way.”

Nina Shaw:
But I did say to this person, “You have an incredible opportunity here to show other people in your industry, how to be agents of change. And you can either take that banner or not. But history is not going to look fondly on you.” This is someone who’s prominent enough that their obituary will be, I guarantee you, in the New York times many years from now.

Celeste Headlee:
Hopefully, yeah.

Nina Shaw:
Hopefully. And I said, “Because the second line of your obituary is going to talk about how you and your legacy was marred by accusations against you and you’re not having done things when you were in a position to do so.” I said, “So imagine all of those people who will be reading that because that’s what they will remember of you.” So that’s in a professional context. In a personal context and I think it happens for many people who have families that are divided and find themselves on opposite sides of the political divide. I think all you can ever do is really lead with love because I think you probably genuinely do love people.

Nina Shaw:
But you often have to explain realities that don’t exist if people are watching media or are only being educated by sources that are just feeding a fantasy. And you just hopefully have to say, “I hear you, I love you. But that’s not the real world. And what I’ve always loved about you has been X and that’s not what I’m seeing now.” And you hope over time that you get through to them. But you don’t get through to people by lecturing them and that I know, that I’ve learned the hard way.

Celeste Headlee:
Yeah, that’s for sure. It has been a true pleasure to talk to you. I had two last questions for you, if you don’t mind. One things that are sort of that you don’t share because they’re so minor. For example there are certain things that I wouldn’t give anybody at advice because it seems odd. Like when I take notes on articles, I take them by hand and then I type them in, for example. Because it helps to them stick into my brain and I wonder if you have any of those things that have really worked well for you.

Nina Shaw:
Oh gosh. I’m someone who struggles so much with being over committed. So I should probably never give any advice on that. But the one thing I do recognize in myself and I take some pride in is that I never really give up and accept the fact that I’m not doing something as well as I want to do it. I’m always striving for improvement. And I think that there’s something maybe I’m tilting against windmills, I don’t know.

Nina Shaw:
But I’d like to believe that what I’m really doing is recognizing that all of us have a capacity for change no matter how old we are, no matter how set in our ways we are. And so I’ve spent this period during the pandemic as many of us have, just kind of looking at basic things in my life and trying to make change. For a long time and people who know me well know this I’m a big baker, like cooking food.

Celeste Headlee:
What kinds of things, yeah, but like bread or sweets or?

Nina Shaw:
Mainly pies and cakes. But for many years I didn’t do anything because I just couldn’t ever make the time. And I just decided, especially over the holidays that I would make enough pies for all of my partners.

Celeste Headlee:
Oh wow.

Nina Shaw:
And I did. And it meant sometimes that I was making a pie and during the weekends mainly, or I was making maybe two to four pies a day. And the more I did it, the better I became at it and the better I became at it the more I enjoyed it. And then I would look back at old family recipes and work on perfecting them and even at one point spoke to a dietician about making some changes. And I can’t imagine that I would’ve ever done this before and I was so proud of myself because it was a small accomplishment, but it felt I had done something that made me happy. So I don’t know if that answers the question but.

Celeste Headlee:
Well, I think it does. I mean, tell me what are your top three pies that you make the best. What are they?

Nina Shaw:
My top pie is a sweet potato pie, which I learned from my mom. And I made 14 of them during the holiday season.

Celeste Headlee:
Oh my goodness.

Nina Shaw:
I know. And from scratch, I make my own of course, I do everything. And then next start apple and peach in no particular order.

Celeste Headlee:
Oh my goodness.

Nina Shaw:
And then I make a cake that my great-grandmother taught me to make, which is a very classic pound cake.

Celeste Headlee:
I can send my mailing address at any point. Last question for you because we’re celebrating Women’s History Month, if you could decide to have lunch with one woman in history, who would you dine with?

Nina Shaw:
Oh, gosh, I have to tell you that is so easy. I love journalism. I mean, I have to tell you a few years back I was profiled in the New York Times and I was so proud of it, not just because that’s a pretty amazing thing. But because my mom used to have me read the New York Times to her almost every day, while she did laundry or ironed or did chores. And I would just sit on a stool and I would read articles to her and we would talk about them. So I would pick a journalist, and I would pick Ida Wells for any number of reasons.

Nina Shaw:
But the main reason I would pick her is I look at Ida B. Wells, who was born in the 1860s, but who lived into a fair amount of this century. She died the year before my own mother was born. So she had a life that spanned the Civil War to World War I. And she was such an outlier. How do you, as a woman born during that time who is both a wife and a mother become such a Crusader so much so that you’re willing to endanger your own life. I mean, where do you get the courage from?

Nina Shaw:
How do you step so outside the boundaries of what is acceptable behavior for people in general, but women specifically, and women of color, and African-American women who are so oppressed. I would love to hear what it was that made her just say, “No more, no more lynching and I will do everything humanly possible towards that end.” I mean, when you think about her life, and I hope more people who hear this will be enticed to Google her or read some of the incredible books that have been written about her. But Celeste isn’t that right?

Celeste Headlee:
She was married to a lawyer by the way. I’m sure you know that.

Nina Shaw:
Yeah.

Celeste Headlee:
Yeah. One of my favorite stories about her, I think she’s fantastic was that she got expelled from college because she got in an argument with the university president. So I don’t know how she learned it to be so strong-willed but she was young when it happened because what a woman.

Nina Shaw:
It’s like she didn’t live within the constraints of her time. She’s almost when you think about her, or when I think about her, I almost think about her as maybe someone whose sensibility and sense of justice and sense of what was appropriate was so far ahead that she must’ve been quite a tribulation.

Celeste Headlee:
Yeah.

Nina Shaw:
To the people around her, even her loved ones must have thought at some point, jeez, will she stop?

Celeste Headlee:
And she would not.

Nina Shaw:
And she did not.

Celeste Headlee:
Yeah.

Nina Shaw:
So I would take her out to a really long lunch. I don’t think I would touch my food at all, because I would just continue to ask her questions and I hope I would give her a few moments to eat.

Celeste Headlee:
That’s a great answer. And Nina Shaw, thank you so much for spending some time with us.

Nina Shaw:
Oh, thank you. I’m so glad that we had this opportunity to speak.

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