What HR can learn from Barbie The Movie

The world has been taken over by pink as the majorly anticipated Barbie movie hits the big screen. The film’s director, Greta Gerwig, has addressed some hard-hitting themes from feminism to anxiety so what could HR take from this?  

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director shares her thoughts:

Taking mental health seriously

Early on, we see Barbie voice a rather concerning question – ‘Do you guys ever think about dying?’. This doesn’t go down well with her fellow Barbies. The music grinds to a halt as her friends gasp in shock, forcing her to keep quiet and downplay her concerns. It’s only when Barbie visits ‘Weird Barbie’ that she feels validated and encouraged to leave Barbie-land to restore her wellbeing.

This narrative illustrates how important it is to take staff seriously when they display signs of poor wellbeing. There are multiple ways an employer can support an employee. This can include lessening their workload, setting up regular one-to-ones, implementing a hybrid working pattern, or providing counselling.

In more serious, cases offering sabbatical leave could be necessary if it becomes clear they’re not mentally fit to be in work. Leave will allow the employee to readjust and take the time off they need before returning to work. Upon returning to work, a staggered start may be beneficial for them to not overwhelm them further. This could include slowly extending their hours, implementing a hybrid working pattern, or slowly increasing workload.

Above all else, it’s essential that an employer creates a space where staff feel empowered to speak freely about their mental health and ask for support when they need it.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

The importance of leadership

Another note to take from the Barbie movie is the importance in leadership. At the start of the film, Barbie-land is running smoothly as the Barbies have control, and everyone carries out their roles efficiently – whether that’s ‘beach’ or president.

When Barbie takes a trip into the real world, the absence of Barbie’s leadership causes efficiency to crumble on Barbie-land. While Ken takes over, he does not possess the necessary qualities to be a competent leader. As all employers know, good leaders are a vital part of the workplace as they ensure the team are carrying out their responsibilities.

Ken has assumed leadership but is not treating everyone with respect. This eventually leads to his inevitable downfall as the Kens turn against each other. When there isn’t clear leadership, a business cannot run effectively. Although leaders have authority, they should lead with fairness and respect. If employees start to feel belittled and disrespected by senior members of staff, it will cause apathy throughout the team.

Tackling gender diversity

Barbie is shocked as she gets to grips with a patriarchal society in the real world. The film shows men in all the top positions while women work beneath them – a concept which Barbie finds alien. Our own businesses should not reflect this narrative, as the workplace should welcome diversity.

A diverse business has better access to talent. If unconscious bias is practiced, you will be cutting yourself off from the large pool of talent that is available. The Equality Act 2010 includes nine protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

If a business discriminated against a candidate for one of these protected characteristics, they risk an employment tribunal claim being brought, and potentially a huge fine. The reputational damage of which could hurt a business immensely.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024