Why Barbie snub disproves that ‘all problems of feminism have been solved’

Ryan Gosling as Ken and Margot Robbie as Barbie ride in Barbie's car in a scene from the 2023 film directed by Greta Gerwig
Barbie Ryan Gosling as Ken and Margot Robbie as Barbie in last year's blockbuster movie

In Barbie land, nothing seems out of reach for the titular character and her posse of perfect pals. But in the real-world Barbie had a bit of setback this week after it failed to secure Oscar nominations for best director, Greta Gerwig, and a best actress nod for Margot Robbie.

Adding heat to this small-c controversy is that Ryan Gosling did make the short-list for best supporting actor in a move that some claim proves the overriding point of the film; Margot Robbie brought the iconic doll to life, Greta Gerwig’s grit and genius created this entire phenomenon, he was just Ken.

So, is there any truth to the accusations that their omissions have more to do with their gender than their abilities? It’s not the first time the Oscars, or indeed many major awards ceremonies, have been accused of overlooking female-led projects and while there have been attempts to address this perceived imbalance, they haven’t always been successful.

For example, in 2023 the Brit Awards came under fire after efforts to remove gender from their nomination categories led to an all-male line-up for the best artist award, the biggest gong of the night. Organisers have endeavoured to improve gender diversity this year by expanding the category which has made room for more female talent.

The question is, why do we need constant tailoring and tweaking to allow for female talent to shine through? Is the answer, for now anyway, to keep the sexes split and have separate categories for males and females. Would Greta Gerwig appreciate a ‘best female director’ nomination any less than one for ‘best director?’

As we approach the IoD NI’s annual Women’s Leadership Conference and celebrations for International Women’s Day in March, this is a question I’m often asking myself. Has the time come when we no longer need distinguish between the skills and attributes needed to make a good male or female leader? Sheryl Sandberg of Lean In fame, perhaps one of the most recognisable and successful female leaders, said “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” So, are we there yet?

My view is that we still have some distance to travel before reaching this sought-after future and until we see total parity in leadership positions, there is still very much an argument to be made for providing tailored leadership support to women in the workplace.

Currently Northern Ireland is the joint lowest employer of women in the UK. It stands to reason that nurturing and investing in female leaders, would help employers reach in to this pool of untapped potential. This is very much our aim with the Women’s Leadership Conference and we’re proud that is has grown into one of the most important dates in the diary for employers and employees right across the public, private and third sector here.

We’re especially proud to be delivering another stellar line-up this year and are confident that attendees will be inspired by each of the sessions. Broadcaster and author Mariella Frostrup will deliver the keynote address and I’m looking forward to learning more about her campaign and advocacy work surrounding the menopause.

Mariella is on a mission to make workplace environments more hospital to women experiencing menopause and anecdotal evidence would suggest that this is badly needed. Women need proper procedures in place and clear guidance as to how their needs will be accommodated as they progress through their working careers. So any tips and advice Mariella can offer from her own research and experiences will certainly be met with enthusiasm.

Other speakers on the day will include award-winning author, Anna Burns, former Irish navy ships captain, Marie Gleeson, and managing director at Access Elemental, Jennifer Naff. Once again ‘The Positive Economist’, Susan Hayes Culloten will take the reigns as our MC for the day. Known for her positive outlook and infectious enthusiasm, Susan is now a familiar face to those who have attended the conference for some time and keeps guests coming back year after year.

We are fortunate to have a team of partners and sponsors whose support means we can deliver an excellent event year after year. Thanks especially to the team at our headline partner Herbert Smith Freehills, our media partner The Irish News, and to all those companies who have committed to encouraging female leaders by sponsoring this event.

Kirsty McManus
Kirsty McManus Kirsty McManus

When imparting her words of wisdom, Sheryl Sandberg didn’t tell us when this future might arise but she did lay the gauntlet and tried to carve out a better path for women in the work place. It is heartening that so many women, and let’s not forget their male colleagues, are committing to this cause and doing what they can to make their organisations more attractive to women in the workplace.

In her blockbuster hit, Greta Gerwig may have disproved Barbie’s belief that thanks to the doll, “…all problems of feminism have been solved.” They haven’t. But slowly we are getting there and creating a fairer, more representative working environment for future female leaders.

:: Kirsty McManus is the IoD’s Nations Director for Northern Ireland