How The Workplace Gets More Kens, Not Alans, To Support The Barbies

We don’t need any more Alans, however supportive they have been to women in the workplace.

We need Kens who can mature out of the Mojo Dojo Casa House and rethink their roles in the workplace and at home.

I’m coming off the high of watching Barbie the movie with my wife and daughters on Sunday. (So clever and cutting – and still plenty comedic.)

There’s nothing wrong with Alans – they’re good guys, as the lone Alan is in the film. But let’s say you run an employee resource group for working parents. Chances are if you get 100 people to attend an event, 98 are going to be working moms juggling it all, and the two men who attend are Alans – the guys in the company who least need to be there because they’re already supportive at home and at work.

I appreciate Alans. They’re thoughtful, well-intentioned men. But they’re outliers.

More men are Kens – mostly decent but largely unaware of how their actions affect the women they work with. Life in the Mojo Dojo Casa House is fun, if juvenile and not terribly enlightened.

Sit the Kens down for a training session to talk about microaggressions and…their eyes glaze over.

Consider this instead. Invite the Kens into a conversation that shows them how small changes in their office assumptions could have a positive impact on their colleagues, and many will change their approach. Now they know. Those types of conversations are going to help women, caregivers, and anyone in the workforce who would never want to hang at the Mojo Dojo Casa House.

I speak from experience. Early in my career, I was Ken-lite.

By that I mean I never worked in newsrooms where there was overt gender discrimination. I say overt because when I left one news organization, my best friend at work took over my beat. A few weeks later she called to ask what I had been paid.

We both had graduate degrees, though hers was actually in journalism. We both had similar work histories, though she’d been a journalist longer.

I told her.

She was shocked. I was being paid $18,000 more than she was – early in our careers when that was a huge salary difference.

I was shocked too. I had thought she was paid as much or more than me because she had more experience. Now to the company’s credit, it fixed it. But it only happened because she asked and I told.

From then on, I was a converted Ken.

But I had been naïve, like so many Kens. When confronted with facts, I changed my view.

The Kens have a line in the film that is the epitome of mansplaining: “Here, let us show you.”

I’m going to appropriate it (a very Alan term) for what we’re doing at The Company of Dads: HR and DEI leaders, let us show you why inviting fathers into your parenting groups will be better for them and for all of your working mothers.

Balancing work and family is gender neutral. It can’t only fall on Barbie’s shoulders. It’s for Ken too. Invite him in.