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C’mon Barbie Let’s Go Party... and Create Equitable Workplaces

Contributors: Nicole Stibbe, Norah Marsh, and Aishwarya Jayaprakash

Opening and closing remarks by: Jesse Adams

A pink desk containing modern office supplies

As a leader and as a coach for leaders, I am continually seeking out resources to utilize, improve and evolve my practice: courses, podcasts, articles, research papers, and books. Most recently (and surprisingly) was the “Barbie” movie.

Barbie was the blockbuster hit of the summer! Recently it was announced that "Barbie" was officially the highest-grossing movie of the year in North America, raking in almost 600 million domestically and over one billion globally.

I was startled by the controversial and negative reactions over the satirical and hyperbolic film. The film (to me) highlighted the poignant and timely message of inequality, inequity in power and leadership structures for women and non-binary people, specifically in the workplace.

As I reflected on my takeaways from the film and some of the vitriol, I was seeing online, I connected with key leaders in my sphere. I sought their counsel when crafting this blog, while learning from their wisdom and perspectives on the evolution of leadership and gender. Each of them indicated the direct impact that inclusion and diversity have on equitable leadership today. Their words were extremely powerful and called me to a new level of accountability and had me reexamine how I magnify other voices.

I am passing the mic, or the keyboard in this case, and amplifying their thoughts and calls to action.

Headshot of Nicole Stibbe

Nicole Stibbe Nicole is a passionate and accomplished strategic EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) Strategist and wellbeing expert helping organizations navigate the complexity of inclusion, belonging, diversity, and the critical link to well-being. With over 25 years in the corporate space developing corporate health, EDI and wellbeing strategies, Nicole helps organizations build integrated, innovative EDI and wellbeing programs that engage and value employees so they can show up authentically. This includes providing organizational gap analysis services and EDI and wellbeing strategy development, training, and coaching. She is also an Intercultural Development Inventory Qualified Assessor, providing rich results to develop a sustainable action plan.

Nicole’s outstanding career has included leadership roles at Sun Life Financial, Morneau Shepell, Trillium Health Partners, Willis Towers Watson and starting up and leading her successful venture Soulwork Alliance, an EDI consulting firm. Nicole also coaches and mentors’ incredible Black university and college students and provides them with the tools and skills to show up for themselves, so they can effectively show up authentically in the workplace.

Some may ask “What leadership skills do women and non-binary folks need to succeed in leadership?” When the real question we need to ask ourselves and really ask is “Why do organizations often fail to acknowledge the already present leadership skills of women and non-binary folks?”

It is often due to deep-seated societal stereotypes whereby some believe, and that systems reinforce, leadership qualities are inherently male traits. In addition, there are often cultural expectations and ‘norms’ that assume women specifically, should prioritize family and caregiver duties over career advancement. Not to mention nepotism, favouritism and tokenism that are often present in organizations. All of this can undermine an organization's commitment to inclusive and equitable leadership.

The elephant in the room, however, is the fact that when we have the limited opportunity to speak of women and non-binary folk achieving well-deserved leadership roles, we inherently refer to the white individuals and don’t recognize that women and non-binary folk of colour have an even higher and steeper hill to climb as historically, women’s rights campaigns have neglected the intersectionality present for POC. It is important to recognize that women and non-binary rights and the struggle against racial discrimination are interconnected for some of us, but often come into conflict for several reasons such as power dynamics and the historical context of women’s rights movement that has not been inclusive of women/people of colour.

Organizations and leaders need to invest in EDI work, personally and professionally, culturally, and strategically. We need more mentors and allies who can use their voice and influence to not only make space for us, but to also ensure the standards are not raised which often make success unattainable once we are there. Leaders currently at the leadership table need to make room for, and fully embrace diverse folks who are ready, willing, and fully capable of thriving in leadership roles if only given the space. There is a line in the Barbie movie that says, “It literally is impossible to be a woman.” This needs to change. Let us not make it impossible to be leaders too.

Headshot of Norah Marsh

Norah Marsh

Norah is a senior leader with more than twenty years of serving at the executive level within various complex public organizations, including being the CEO of a provincial crown corporation. She is an international speaker and coach who compassionately and creatively supports leaders and their teams in creating collaborative cultures in which staff thrive and leaders excel. Norah is committed to ongoing anti-oppressive learning and allyship and has completed certification in Human Rights training.

We need to ensure that everyone understands there is not just one way to effectively lead. There are many styles of leadership and identities which need to be honoured, celebrated, and reflected. For this to occur, we need a diversity of identities in leadership roles, active policies and procedures that establish equity and diversity as the standard, and to address dominant cultures that prevent that from occurring. As a white, cisgender, and straight person of privilege, I have a greater responsibility to step up and speak out. My identity provides me with potentially more opportunities for development. I need to be aware of that and speak up as an ally and share those opportunities. As leaders, we need to be active listeners and give space for others to grow. Sometimes there can be pressure to be the “sage on stage” or have all the answers, but we need to provide opportunities for others to thrive by letting them take the lead and learn from their leadership. In terms of listening, it is not only about listening to those who are willing to talk but also asking the questions:

1. Who is not talking or sharing around the team/table? 2. Why are they silent?

a. What barriers are in place?

b. What support or resources are needed?

3. How can I change the dynamic so that they can trust in our professional environment or relationship and speak up?

4. How do I give/receive feedback?

5. How can I create safe space for others to challenge me/the status quo? 6. What does true advocacy and allyship look like for me in my role?

Headshot of Aishwarya Jayaprakash

Aishwarya Jayaprakash Aishwarya brings her passion, focus and energy to develop tailored solutions to solve problems using evidence-based management practices. She specializes in using a human-centered design approach that puts people and empathy at the centre of solutions. During her MBA, Aish worked as a service-learning student and consultant for small businesses and non-profits in Halifax. These experiences allowed her to develop her skills in the functional areas of Human Resources, Strategy, Marketing and Operations. In addition, her work experience as a Quality Assurance Engineer in the IT industry, coupled with her background in management, allows her to articulate business requirements through the lens of an engineer and a management consultant.

There is a deep need to redefine what leadership looks like. We can challenge stereotypes and pave the way for more inclusive and effective leadership styles for the future. I think women, specifically women of colour, can have a challenging time leaning into our power. It is as if the full extent of our capabilities is tucked beneath layers of modesty, hesitation, fear, and this unspoken pressure to be grateful. Understanding the systems and structures that exist and challenging them is critical to moving leadership forward. My hope in sharing my thoughts and insights about equitable spaces and my experience is to create real change and evolution. Leaders hold power, influence, and create deep impact. Recognize the value and worth of yourself and your team/staff. Create a catalyst for positive transformation by:

  • Having the courage to be your authentic self

    • Honour our personal journey by stepping away from the need to present ourselves based on others' perceptions. Instead, embrace our true selves and fearlessly express our true opinions, unique perspectives, and thoughts. This gives others permission to do the same.

  • Having the courage to learn and embrace challenges

    • We are not born leaders; we become them. Dive into learning opportunities fearlessly. Workshops, webinars, courses—every bit adds up to our growth. Instead of shying away from challenges, embrace them.

  • Be inclusive always

    • We have walked paths that others might not have. Be aware of this and actively make room for all voices and perspectives to shine.

  • Learn about others and develop your cultural competence

    • Understanding and respecting diverse cultures and perspectives.

  • Invest in your own development and tech savviness

    • As technology continues to evolve, leaders should stay current with tools and trends relevant to their industry.

  • Be ethical

    • Upholding ethical principles, focusing on sustainability, and thinking about tomorrow and having a moral compass.

  • Be accountable

    • Recognize, own, and repair when you make a mistake.

  • Cultivate confidence

    • Believe in your capabilities. You have earned your place through hard work and dedication. Do not shy away from displaying your accomplishments. Own your achievements and advocate for opportunities that align with your aspirations.

  • Pay it forward

    • As you climb the ladder, extend your hand to help others rise. Remember that it is not just about you—it is about raising the collective voice of all people, women, and non-binary folks. When we lift one another up, we amplify our power, creating a chorus that resounds everywhere.

Greta Gerwig, who wrote and directed “Barbie,” told The New York Times. “My hope for the movie is that it’s an invitation for everybody to be part of the party and let go of the things that aren’t necessarily serving us as either women or men. I hope that in all that passion, if they see it or engage with it, it can give them some of the relief that it gave other people.” The power of the Barbie movie and film is something to take to heart. We as leaders or those who are aspiring to lead need to embrace diversity, inclusion, and strive for equitable practices, to create spaces for all, and release the things that no longer serve us in our lives and workplaces.

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