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Barbie's Big Lesson: Women Don't Have to Do or Be What Society Expects

Women in the business world often face a myriad of expectations and stereotypes that can limit their growth and potential. The pressure to be someone based on society's stereotypes, and to act and perform a certain way just because that's what's expected is a frustrating hurdle for women at work and in their personal lives — and it shouldn't have to be that way.

Those stereotypes and expectations prevent far too many women from reaching the success they're capable of. Expectations like, "Be the leader, but don't have your own ideas," or "You're responsible for men's bad behavior" seem designed to hamper women's growth. Those are ideas more people are being exposed to thanks to Greta Gerwig's Barbie movie and Gloria's (played by America Ferrera) powerful monologue. In part of the monologue she says,

You have to be a boss, but you can't be mean. You have to lead, but you can't squash other people's ideas. You're supposed to love being a mother, but don't talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman, but also always be looking out for other people. You have to answer for men's bad behavior, which is insane, but if you point that out, you're accused of complaining.

Challenging Society's Expectations

Ferrera's monologue challenges stereotypes and drives home the importance of embracing individuality. It's also a powerful reminder that women don't have to be — or do — what society expects, and that women face unique challenges in their professional and personal lives.

Be Nice

Being nice can place you in a more passive role. When someone is being nice, their actions are often driven by social norms, politeness, or a desire to maintain a positive image. On the other hand, being kind is motivated by genuine care, empathy, and a desire to make a positive difference in someone's life.

Have Children

Having children and raising a family isn't for everyone, and that's OK. Everyone has their own goals and priorities. For some it's work, for others it might be education, travel, personal passions, or being a parent. Having a child just because society expects you to is a bad way to step into parenting.

Stay Quiet

Quiet people are rarely heard and often ignored - and being loud isn't always the opposite of quiet. In professional settings, women speaking up about their accomplishments, ideas, and concerns is crucial for career advancement. Women's voices have been instrumental in advocating for civil rights, gender equality, and various social justice causes, too.


Apologizing is so ingrained in our society that many women don't even realize they say "I'm sorry" all the time. "I'm sorry, are you busy," for example, or "I'm sorry, I have something to add," place women in a passive and subordinate position. "Are you busy" and "I have something to add" are appropriate and professional without being passive, or falling back into the "be nice" trap.

Making a Better World

The Barbie movie, and Ferrera's monologue, also highlight ideas that make for a happier and healthier workplace and personal life.

Embrace Diversity and Inclusivity

The many Barbies in the movie represent different backgrounds, abilities, and interests. Businesses can embrace that same idea through diversity equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. According the McKinsey's Women in the Workplace 2022 report, women leaders are 1.5 times more likely to leave for a different job compared to men because of a lack of DEI in their current workplace.

Defy Conventional Beauty Standards

Ferrera's monologue is a reminder that professional women should not be judged by their looks but by their capabilities, intelligence, and contributions. A hem line and hair length shouldn't be qualifying factors in someone's ability to get a promotion or a new job. Workplaces that focus on skills and expertise can break free from societal pressures related to physical appearance, and create a healthier and more productive business environment.

Pursue Passions

No one should be confined to work roles dictated by expectations or stereotypes. Instead, businesses should strive to align leaders and team members' passions and interests to their roles. That can lead to greater job satisfaction and success, and maybe even new business opportunities.

Celebrate Individuality

Everyone should embrace their unique qualities and perspectives because they can bring fresh ideas and innovation to their organizations. By being true to themselves, women can make a significant impact in the workplace and challenge traditional norms. This goes hand-in-hand with DEI, and it's a legacy women entrepreneurs are well positioned to instill in their own businesses.

Living in a Barbie World

The Barbie movie serves as a source of inspiration for professional women navigating the challenges of the business world and our society. It urges women to champion diversity and inclusivity, defy conventional beauty standards, pursue their passions, and celebrate their individuality. America Ferrera's monologue drives that message home by showing women need to break free from the constraints of societal expectations and forge their paths to success in a manner that is authentic and empowering.

The change that can come from breaking out of being and doing what society expects sets all of us up for a better world. And in the workplace it fosters an environment that values diversity, empowers individuals, and celebrates the uniqueness of everyone's journey.

If you’re looking for guidance on breaking your business free from society-driven limitations, or ensuring your company continues to embrace DEI after you leave, iKadre can help. Schedule a meeting to learn more.

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