top of page

Leadership Barbies speak up and take action

Sally Ride, Top row: Billie Jean King, Entrepreneur Barbie, Ida B. Wells, Middle row: Rosa Parks, Frida Kahlo, Kathryn Johnson, Bottom row: Madam C.J. Walker, Maya Angelou, and Laverne Cox

Scene: Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) returns from the real world to find that Ken (Ryan Gosling) has infiltrated Barbieland with patriarchy and turned her perfect dreamhouse into his “mojo dojo casa house.” He forcefully explains that “Kendom” is here to stay. Barbie starts to cry, walks away demoralized, kicks off her heels, face plants to the ground. In a tearful voice, she says to Gloria (America Ferrera), “I’ll just sit here and wait until one of the more leadership-oriented Barbies does something!”

Gasp! Wait? What? No. No. No. No. No.

As my intuitive IU Kelley intern Elisabeth Velasquez pointed out, Barbie was just living up to the qualities defined by her box created by a male-dominated C-suite. She was not yet aware that she had the capacity to behave differently. Barbie just needed a pep talk (from Gloria), some training, and an opportunity to practice leading in new ways.

Given the current state of Indiana affairs, perhaps it’s time to expand the number of “leadership-oriented Barbies” (and Allans)—and to redefine what leadership looks like in 2023 by honing some new skills. We need more leaders who will fight political bullies rather than rolling over and waiting for someone else to do it.

Barbies and Allans, here are a few ways to prepare and train to fend off the patriarchal Kendom waiting to inculcate our workplaces.

Get more curious to reduce frustration.

Over lunch recently, Startup Ladies ambassador Virginie Adams shared how she diplomatically engages with people who are either difficult to work with or just have a very different perspective from hers. During a heated discussion, instead of giving into anger, she chooses to become more curious about the person she’s talking to and internally asks herself:

  • “If I were in their shoes, how would I feel right now?

  • What brought them to having this perspective?

  • What information might one of us be missing?”

This wisdom has already helped me in situations where someone has dropped the ball, offered a dissenting opinion, or defended a position that wasn’t rooted in science.

Read banned books.

I learned this from one of my favorite feminists (or Allans in Barbie lexicon), Startup Ladies ambassador Jason Kelly. He’s taught me that one of the best ways to prepare for challenging conversations is to read banned books because you will learn something your opponent doesn’t want you to know. Knowledge conquers ignorance.

One of his favorite banned books is Howard Zinn’s, “A People’s History of the United States.” Zinn asked his readers to think about the ways that traditional histories focused on the powerful, often ignoring both the devastating effects of their power and the lives of those who worked together to limit their power.

(For your information, former Gov. Mitch Daniels proposed to get this book removed from Indiana curricula.)

Pick a side.

Principled leaders do not hide from complex societal problems. They work hard to understand them from multiple angles and build relationships that lead to ethical solutions. Unfortunately, too many of Indiana’s business elite remain silent on important issues, such as the topic of abortion in the recent legislative session. Their silence hurts their employees’ rights as well as the business environment at large.

Any individual who has to make a decision about carrying a pregnancy has an enormous responsibility. Ensuring that everyone has the right to make a decision about what to do with their body is a clear-cut civil rights issue. Any business that employs people with a uterus should be speaking out to ensure their employees have access to the health care necessary to do their job.

If you own a business and support reproductive freedom for ALL Hoosiers, now is the time to join our effort. Sign on with us!

Form and participate in coalitions.

Standing up to bullies and triggering transformational change can begin with one simple action. However, gargantuan problems are best solved when teams of experts collaborate and execute their finely sharpened skills. What societal issues are important to you? Google the leaders who are solving the problem you are passionate about and meet with them to discuss ways that you (and possibly your organization) can collaborate to achieve wins for the movement. Power is leveraged in greater numbers and through strategic cooperation.

Ethical leaders stand up for civil rights in every situation. They don’t wait for other leadership-oriented Barbies to arrive on the scene and fix what is broken. Rather, they seek to understand first, educate themselves through reading banned books, rally with the experts, then speak out and take action. Go get ’em Barbie (and Allan)!


bottom of page