There’s No Ken Without Barbie: Why Being a Passive Observer at Work Isn’t Enough

There’s No Ken Without Barbie: Why Being a Passive Observer at Work Isn’t Enough

Barbie was undoubtedly the pop culture moment of 2023. Breaking box office records, reframing the iconic doll as a feminist icon, (and making pink cool again). It was no surprise then that the world let out a collective gasp at Greta Gerwig’s omission from the Academy Awards ‘Best Director’ nominees list.

While the movie deservedly received eight nominations, Gerwig’s absence cannot be ignored. A Best Director nod would have acknowledged the powerful cultural impact of the movie — which could not have been achieved without a woman at the helm.

Ryan Gosling was quick to call out his disappointment of both Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie missing out on a nomination in their anticipated categories, and we celebrated his swift response.

But what does this public discourse say about the importance of male allyship both in the film industry, and in workplaces more broadly?

It’s become clear that we need more men to move from just being ‘good guys,’ to being active advocates for women at work.

The truth is in the data

Australia’s media sector is no stranger to gender bias. According to the ‘Women In Media Industry Insight Report 2023’, while the industry is made up of over 6,000 women, men continue to dominate as voices of authority, as byline authors, sources, and experts in the most prolific sections of the media. Women working in media also face an above average weekly earnings gap of 16 per cent.

Based on its current trajectory, we will not achieve media gender parity until 2034, and much of this stems from the bias women experience in the workplace, coupled with a lack of support from management.

Our ‘The Voice of Women at Work 2023 Report’ surveyed 1,200 women from various industries and roles to better understand their experiences and goals in the workplace. The report revealed that almost half (44 per cent) of working women in Australia have felt patronised, undermined, or underestimated by their manager or senior leaders because of their gender.

Just one in ten (8 per cent) felt that they are thriving in their job, and almost two thirds (63 per cent) don’t believe they are fulfilling their potential at work. Confidence, burnout and wellbeing were cited as major challenges for women at work, with more than half (53 per cent) expressing feelings of self-doubt.

We also found that almost a quarter (24 per cent) of women who changed jobs in the last 18 months cited a lack of opportunity to advance as the reason they left.

Companies with male allies produce more creative, diverse teams

Research by Catalyst shows that when men are deliberately engaged in gender inclusion programs, 96 per cent of organisations see progress. This can be in the form of reduced bias, higher engagement and retention, as well as increased representation of women in decision-making roles.

A study by Deloitte states that companies that prioritise diversity and inclusion are six times more likely to be innovative, agile and have a more creative approach.

These staggering statistics further validate why it’s important for men to be aware of the barriers women face in the workplace, and how they can help create an inclusive, dynamic and productive culture.

Here are three of the most important ways male leaders in the industry can be effective allies for their female colleagues:


Women are feeling the effects of bias at work in alarming numbers. Nearly two-thirds of women have experienced negative bias due to their age, particularly women aged 18 – 24 years and 25 – 34 years. More than half the women we’ve surveyed have been undermined by a male leader and half have experienced negative bias at work because of their gender.

At a minimum, leaders should establish an employee action group within the organisation, made up of women and men – dedicated to advocating and progressing gender equality and women-focused initiatives.

Education should also be a crucial part of helping employees understand biases and how they impact women.


‘The Voice of Women at Work 2023 Report’ highlighted that 29 per cent of women are not receiving enough support from managers, mentors or sponsors, with only seven per cent of women claiming they always feel supported within their organisation when it comes to career progression.

Male leaders should allocate funding to support women’s leadership development programs and opportunities, and it’s important to schedule routine check-ins with women in the team to find out what guidance and support they need.

It’s crucial that men in positions of power at work are actively listening to women, and should consider undertaking their own training, like the Male Allies program, so that the onus for change doesn’t rest solely on women.


You may see your female colleagues stand up and nail a presentation, and be brimming with confidence in the office. However, being dynamic in front of your peers or clients does not necessarily equate to having the skills or self-belief to advocate for yourself – particularly when it comes to career growth.

Confidence is a significant issue for women at work, with only six per cent feeling confident all the time, and 45 per cent feeling confident only some of the time. The biggest factor undermining women’s confidence at work is their inner critic and self-doubt.

This gets in the way of career progression, with 38 per cent of women reluctant to ask for a pay rise and an equal number disinclined to put themself forward for a promotion.

The irony of an industry that is filled with women presenting compelling pitches, advocating for brands and clients, yet not having the confidence to advocate for themselves, is not lost on me.

Building confidence can be achieved from all levels of your company. It can be as simple as giving credit where credit is due, calling out great work when you see it, speaking highly of your female coworkers to colleagues, and speaking up if there is an injustice (thank you, Ryan).

Being a passive observer, even when in agreement with the cause, is not enough. It’s time for men to use their positions of power for good, and be effective allies to the women they work with.


As published in Mumbrella, 15 February, 2024

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