I recently went to see the Barbie movie with my 12-year-old son. He didn’t yet understand many of the topics in the movie, so at the end, when he noticed that I was crying, I told him it was just so funny that it brought tears to my eyes. But that wasn’t really the reason.
Explore This IssueOctober 2023
In the movie, the Barbies of Barbieland all work together in a female utopia under the belief that inequality has been solved because women can have any job they want. Having a profession and being treated as an equal in that job, however, are very different. Discrimination does exist in Barbieland, and the intense focus on the female gender leaves the men of Barbieland feeling that they aren’t “Kenough.”
Later that evening, though, I had to fess up and have a much longer conversation with my son about why a movie that, on the surface, seemed to be for kids in fact demonstrated many of the struggles that women face in society, including bullying. I told him that thinking that the problem is solved only perpetuates it.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and although the classic perception of bullying is kids on a playground, bullying in a toxic workplace can still thrive and have a profound negative impact on healthcare delivery.
Workplace bullying may not be as overt as in the past, but it still exists and requires strong leadership who are not afraid to stand up and create a workplace where everyone has the opportunity to succeed. The book The Exceptions by Kate Zernike is a powerful look at the challenges that women entering the workforce in the 1960s faced, highlighting the story of Nancy Hopkins, PhD, and her fight for women in science. She and a group of fellow MIT female scientists in 1999 wrote the “Report on the Status of Women Faculty in the Schools of Science and Engineering at MIT” that showed the undeniable inequities in pay, resources, and promotion at MIT. When the then-president of MIT, Charles Vest, PhD, received the report, he didn’t deny or make excuses—he endorsed it and started the process of institutional change. More leaders need to demonstrate this kind of bravery.
Bullies and systemic discrimination can’t function without the support of organizational leadership. A lack of action is, by default, support, perpetuating and strengthening bullies within organizations. Power is given to bullies by bystanders who say nothing, leadership that allows the behavior to continue, and organizations that don’t provide resources for the victims of bullying to feel safe about reporting it without fear of retaliation.
Bullies are typically insecure and depend on fear to succeed. If bystanders and leadership no longer allow them to have power to instill fear, then they can no longer be successful. Think of all that we could accomplish in healthcare without bullies and discrimination.