What Barbie teaches us about creative female talent

Pearl & Dean’s Kathryn Jacob shares the importance of nurturing female talent and telling women’s stories

Kathryn Jacob

CEO Pearl and Dean


Greta Gerwig’s Barbie dominated the box office like no other film so far this year, hitting the $1 billion mark just 17 days after it was released. The film also became a marketing phenomenon - for the past few months it’s been Barbie’s world and brands, fans and everyone in between have just been living in it.

However, while there has been a lot of discourse around the film being a marketing masterpiece, not enough has been said about the role and significance it plays for female representation; and for those working in the industry, including the lessons this has for our own working practices.

While there has been a lot of discourse around the film being a marketing masterpiece, not enough has been said about the role and significance it plays for female representation.

Kathryn Jacob OBE, CEO at Pearl & Dean

Women at the top 

On-screen, the film shares powerful insights into the place and role women have in society today, challenges the patriarchy and opens discussions around our own self-worth and identity. It does all this while being entertaining, involving and a bunch of fun. By making all these messages accessible and relevant to audiences, it highlights the reality of women needing more representation off screen as well as on screen. The film works because it’s made by and for women (and in its highly diverse casting a whole lot of underrepresented communities). The film is the only billion dollar blockbuster that is solely directed by a woman, whilst its star, Margot Robbie, is one of the founders of Lucky Chap Entertainment, the production company behind it.

It is now hard to keep brilliant talent down as audiences demand it. A study conducted last year by Starz found that only 35% of women reported that their identity is well represented in current media content, with over half (52%) of respondents feeling it was important that women were represented behind the camera.

There has been a lot of progress in the film industry already. And it has not just been about bringing opportunities and projects to diverse talent - women are also making it on their own. Donna Langley, the current head of Universal, is arguably the most powerful woman in film and the first British woman to run a Hollywood studio. There are also a plethora of communities working to support women in the industry, from Girls in Film through to Women in Film.

Creating belonging in the workplace 

However, the film industry, as well as the wider creative industries, still has a lot of work to do to ensure that women are heard and know that they are represented. It starts by ensuring we create a workplace where everyone feels they belong.

When I joined Pearl & Dean over a decade ago, ensuring a balanced team was my biggest priority. Now 55% of my senior team is female: not by design but by making sure that colleagues know our culture is based on personal empowerment and treating people as individuals. It was the mid 2000s, and from previous experience at other media organisations which were extremely male-dominated and inflexible in their working attitudes, I knew this had to start with culture. I wanted to create a workplace built around having an empowered team: success is shared success, and everyone - no matter what level - should be given a sense of purpose and responsibility in their role to ensure people are motivated, challenged and encouraged to do their best every day. And even if you can’t do your best that day, you’ve got a team around you who can help and get you back on track. We all support each other.

As Pearl & Dean celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, we are proud of the progress we have made to champion and support female talent and diversity. We have been adopting flexible working practices for over 15 years, so we accommodate for people with family responsibilities, as well as those who are carers, have a disability or other demands on their time. However, our progress is still ongoing and we also recognise that more can be done across the creative industry to fully ensure that different voices and perspectives are given equal opportunities, are heard and that the current status quo is challenged.

While Barbie does a good job in conveying a message, now more than ever, progress for DE&I goes beyond the plot. Barbie is a good example of a film that proves the power of female talent - on and off-screen - and its impact. But the film industry (as well as the wider creative industry as a whole) must take note. While recruitment and opening up opportunities plays an important role in encouraging diverse talent - we must ensure we are also creating the right environments for this talent to develop, be retained and promoted. It is imperative that everyone feels a sense of belonging and has access to a team around them that empowers and encourages others to be the best they can be. This will allow for talent to thrive, while also allowing businesses to reap the benefits too.


Kathryn has extensive experience in many areas of the media industry including national newspapers, magazines and radio. She has also turned her hand to running cross-media initiatives. Now as CEO of Pearl & Dean, she just focuses on film and cinema. Building on the reputation of Pearl & Dean, the team have grown their activities outside of the usual venues into pop up and drive in cinema, cinemas on luxurious ships, film partnerships and product placement. In 2016 Kathryn co-wrote ‘The Glass Wall’ with Sue Unerman, aiming to use their experiences and research to help women and businesses thrive. Since publication, they have given over 180 talks about the book and diversity. In the 2016 New Year Honours list, Kathryn was awarded an OBE for services to the promotion of equality and diversity. In 2020 Sue and Kathryn published another book, partnering this time with Mark Edwards, called “Belonging: The Key to Transforming and Maintaining Diversity, Inclusion and Equality at Work” Outside of work Kathryn sits on the Development Board of RADA, the Executive Council of Screen Advertising World Association, the Board of the Association of Colleges (sport) and the Council and Board of the Advertising Association, as well as chairing their Inclusion Group. She is also the very proud Chair at HOME in Manchester, one of the leading arts venues in the UK. Kathryn’s also been part of the Government Expert Group on Body Confidence. She has two children, two slightly naughty dogs, a lovely husband and not enough hours in the day.

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Women Film