It’s not a Barbie world: What businesses can learn from the Barbie Oscar snub

Brent Herman our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 01 February 2024

You’ve probably heard by now. The main character of the Barbie movie, a movie highlighting the harsh demands of womanhood, has been nominated for an Oscar - and it’s for Ken. 


Star Margot Robbie and director Greta Gerwig's snub was called "one of the biggest shocks in recent memory" by the Associated Press. In tandem, Ryan Gosling, the Oscar-nominated Ken himself, showed his disappointment in this statement: “There is no Barbie movie without Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie, the two people most responsible for this history-making, globally-celebrated film.”


Clear parallels can be drawn between this and the corporate world’s fight for diversity. Just like the Oscars’ rebuff of Barbie, women in the workplace are constantly battling against unconscious biases and flagging DE&I initiatives. Whether they’re wanting a promotion, to break the glass ceiling or to win an Oscar, women’s efforts have historically gone unrecognised. 


With International Women’s Day right around the corner (8th March - mark your calendars), I see this Oscar incident as an example of what women face everyday in the business landscape. Let’s discuss how we can learn from it and foster a more inclusive workplace.

The need for diversity data in challenging assumptions

My first thought when I heard about the Barbie snub was that it teaches us a valuable lesson on the need for transparent diversity data within organisations. I have no idea how Oscar nominations are made - and that’s part of the issue.


Just like we need diversity data to make informed business decisions, the public needs data to understand why Gerwig and Robbie weren’t nominated. Only then can we be really clear on the equitability of the decision.  


A lack of transparency creates a danger of being misunderstood. In a business context, a commitment to openness builds trust among employees, stakeholders and the community, enhancing the organisation's credibility by showing that choices are made fairly.


This is what The Academy is lacking. So, what information do we have? I decided to do some research on the demographics of Oscar voters. The Academy claims to have broadened their voting body - but there is still a clear lack of diversity in their ranks. In 2023:

- 33% of The Academy’s members identified as women

- 19% were from underrepresented ethnic/racial communities

- 66% of the voting body was male and 81% was white

While this is an improvement from 2012’s Oscar voting body, it’s clear that their DE&I efforts have fallen short. 


Unfortunately, we see this mirrored in the executive world. Despite women holding 40% of positions on FTSE 100 boards, only nine women in total hold CEO roles. When this is what the landscape looks like, diversity data is crucial. Without it, it’s understandable why people accept things at face value: the man is getting the advantage. 


By presenting concrete evidence of fairness in decision-making processes, organisations - including The Academy - can hold themselves accountable, foster a culture of trust and dispel assumptions. This promotes a more inclusive and informed understanding of the factors influencing organisational choices.

Unconscious biases: Women’s invisible barriers 

With a lack of information about why Gerwig and Robbie were snubbed, we have to ask ourselves: did some unconscious bias creep into the decision? 


Many believe that The Academy missed the point of the film, overlooking its meticulous orchestration. Despite its resounding cultural impact, it has been dismissed as a movie about, in the words of Jo Koy, “a plastic doll with big boobies”. 


Once again, this issue pervades in businesses today, with a Deloitte study revealing that 39% of employees experience unconscious bias at least once a month. Additionally, 89% of hiring managers admit to making judgments about candidates within the first 15 minutes of an interview, resulting in unfair decisions. For example, women are 45% more likely to be excluded from STEM jobs due to biases in the hiring process.


Indeed, women face an unconscionable amount of gender bias in the workplace. Their assertiveness is often construed as aggression and, despite getting higher performance ratings, they are 14% less likely to be promoted than men each year because their leadership potential is underestimated.


Correcting unfair biases isn’t about hiring people - or nominating them for an Oscar - because you think they deserve it based on their gender. That doesn’t empower women, it’s just a means of ticking a box. The point is to make sure everyone has a fair chance and that they’re not being thrown out of the process because of prejudices.

What’s the role of male allyship in shaping inclusive workplaces?

Progressing towards gender parity, whether it’s in the office, the boardroom or the Dolby Theatre, requires a stronger stance from male colleagues.


Statistics show that men overestimate their effectiveness as allies. 77% believe they’re doing “everything they can do” to support gender fairness. But only 41% of women agree with this and 60% of employees say it’s rare to see men calling out discriminatory behaviour.


The impact of male allyship is palpable. It reduces workplace hostility, increases gender-equality norms and strengthens professional relationships. In turn, this creates a culture of collaboration and mutual respect that benefits the entire organisation. 


Ryan Gosling’s response to his Oscar nomination is a prime example of what it means to be an ally, and act on it. By advocating for his female counterparts, he contributes to dismantling gender biases and challenges the structural inclusion within The Academy. 


Daring to speak out is difficult, but necessary. According to the World Economic Forum, it will take another 136 years to close the gender gap. All of us, from men to women to executives to CEOs, have to challenge organisational decisions and ensure they’re based on fairness so that we bridge the gap quicker. If we don’t get curious, then Ken wins, and Barbie loses.

What can businesses learn from Barbie?

Just as gender biases in the corporate world will never eclipse the fight for equality, so will a lack of nominations never take away from Barbie’s message. What Gerwig and Robbie did in terms of their impact is, in my opinion, an Oscar in its own right. 


Amid this controversial decision, America Ferrera’s Barbie nomination for Best Supporting Actress is the ray of hope we all need. She is now one of the eight Latinas to have ever been nominated in that category’s history, proving that no matter what obstacles you’re facing, there’s always a way to forge your own success. 


From a business perspective, I believe Barbie spotlights the headwinds that women face on a profound level. Its message, reception and even its Oscar snub provide crucial insights into how leaders and organisations at large can support their female peers on the road towards gender parity.

If you’d like to have a chat about how your business can improve its diversity, equity and inclusion strategy, contact me today.

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