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5 Lessons From Netflix’s ‘The Bold Type’ On How To Become A Better Workplace

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The Bold Type, first premiered in 2017 on American channel Freeform, was recently made available on Netflix India. It would be safe to say that the show has become the lockdown binge-watch for many. At first, it feels like you’re watching a combination of Sex and the City and The Devil Wears Prada – lots of glamour, drama, and unrealistic workplace environments. While the show does pander to the needs of a millennial audience, it also tackles a lot of important issues concerning race, gender, intersectionality, and the workplace.

The show can be criticized for being the epitome of white feminism that gives major ‘girl boss’ vibes. It also seems like the three main characters – Kat, Jane and Sutton, have no deadlines and spend more time in the fashion closet or day drinking. This is, to say the least, a whitewashed portrayal of the work culture at media houses.

That said, the show also tackles major political issues like gun control, immigration policy, racism and the #MeToo movement, and more. There are a few things that The Bold Type got right.

In this article, I’ll discuss five good things about the show that we could try and emulate to improve our respective workplaces. Proceed with caution, there may be a few spoilers ahead!

Error 404: Toxic Boss Not Found

USA Today, in their review of the show, described Jacqueline Carlyle as the ‘fairytale editor.’ For those who haven’t watched the show, Jacqueline is the antithesis of the horrible boss trope. From iconic characters like Miranda Priestly to entire film series like Horrible Bosses, the media has shown us that a good boss makes you work till you break. They are often portrayed as arrogant perfectionists with no conception of a work/life balance and whose personal life is in shambles, especially if the boss is female.

Jacqueline Carlyle, the Editor-in-Chief of Scarlet magazine, is a breath of fresh air. She actively tries to create a workplace that promotes growth, development and productivity over toxic hustle culture. She stands up for her team, gives space for them to work on their shortcomings, and constantly pushes them to do better at work. 

lessons to learn from The Bold Type on how to become a better workplace
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One of her biggest strengths is the empathy she extends to her staff when they’re dealing with the crisis in their personal lives, greatly improving their mental health and even channelling it into creating good journalistic pieces. 

Research also suggests that good communication and empathy towards employees result in greater productivity and emotional wellbeing. Looks like, we can all take a trick or two out of her leadership handbook!

A Conversation On Privilege

Many of us are ‘woke’ and politically correct on social media but how many of us are able to see past our biases when it affects us personally?

Soon after Jane loses her job at Scarlet, she gets a shot at working for an excellent publication but finds out that even after a stellar interview, she was not considered because the hiring managers were prioritizing diversity at the workplace.

The Bold Type shares lesson on how to be a better workplace
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Jane was disappointed and angry at being turned down for ‘something that was out of her control.’ Here, we see a parallel to the anti-reservation conversations that happen in India. It is common for those higher up in the socio-economic ladder and with caste privilege to argue that those deserving of a position will receive it regardless of their background.

This is where the conversation on privilege on The Bold Type highlights that one is inherently advantageous because of one’s socioeconomic location. Here, Kat delivers a great privilege check – “But how do you know that whoever did get the job wasn’t more perfect? The fact that you assume they only got it because of some diversity handout makes you sound entitled.”

Diversity Done Right?

The conversation as mentioned earlier between Jane and Kat was tense and messy, but it was honest. We must have such interactions at home and at the workplace where the push for diversity and inclusion is taking place gradually. Workplaces in India need to start identifying the dominant demographic of their workforce and their socio-economic locations to see who they might’ve excluded in the history of the company’s existence.

Reservation is essential in granting opportunities to people from different backgrounds and effectively bringing more voices to the table. The chances are high that the workforce will overwhelmingly have people from upper caste and upper-class backgrounds. Such a demographic will need to be equipped with better perspectives on their advantageous position in order to become better allies at work.

On showcasing diversity, the show does a great job. There are many characters from different backgrounds and identities. Kat Edison, the social media manager, is not reduced to a token Black character but is a rather complex biracial woman coming to terms with her sexuality.

The Bold Type has lessons on how to become a better workplace
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The Bold Type also brings to the fore the characters of a lesbian Muslim photographer from Iran, disability representation through Tony award winner Ali Stroker, and a cameo by Sasha Velour, the ninth season winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

It is crucial for media portrayal to show staff diversity not only to argue for inclusion but also because they are very much present. Behavioral studies suggest that diverse teams focus more on facts, remain objective, and hold each other accountable, bringing more innovative ideas and increasing collective performance.

New perspectives help not only in reducing biases among employees but also in boosting the company’s intellectual and marketable potential. Turns out diversity and inclusion is not just fair but a smart business strategy as well.

Psychological Safety

It is important to question whether the show follows through on the issues it tackles on-screen. Aisha Dee, who plays Kat Edison on the show, recently wrote on Instagram, where she called out the show for not holding up their diversity duties on the set of The Bold Type

“It took two seasons to get a single BIPOC in the writers’ room for The Bold Type. And even then, the responsibility to speak for the entire Black experience cannot and should not fall on one person. We got to tell a story about a queer Black woman and a lesbian Muslim woman falling in love, but there have never been any queer Black or Muslim writers in the room. In four seasons (48 episodes), we’ve had one Black woman direct two episodes.”

Aisha goes on to talk about the need for marginalized communities to be empowered to tell their own stories. “The level of care, nuance and development that have gone into the stories centring white hetero characters is inconsistent with the stories centring queer and POC characters. We cannot bring specificity and honesty to experiences we have not lived.” 

Subverting dominant narratives is possible only when historically marginalized groups are empowered to assert influence over their experiences and matters that concern them. The producers of the show gave a promising statement – “Our goal on The Bold Type is and has always been to tell entertaining, authentic stories that are representative of the world that Kat, Jane and Sutton live in — we can only do that if we listen.” 

It’s important to note that employees need to have a certain sense of psychological safety to talk about the issues they face and their opinions on how the workplace can improve. These opinions also need to be well-received on the part of the employers to complete this loop of psychological safety. It’s a two-way street, after all.

An employer that guarantees their workforce psychological safety will do very well in implementing their D&I policies.

‘Out With The Old, In With The New’: Fix Hiring Processes

Apart from addressing biases in the hiring processes incorporates, the show also highlights the problematic recruitment process of Scarlet Magazine’s parent company and criticizes its racist and classist roots.

When Kat has to put together a new social media team, she is faced with many dilemmas. Every resume looks similar – Ivy League college, amazing scores, stellar internships and recommendations. She combs through social media to find the perfect person for the role but didn’t complete college to find a fresh voice. Kat has to fight the company’s policy and a boardroom full of old white men in order to hire Angie Flores, a Latino woman.

The Bold Type' Recap Season 2, Episode 5: 'Stride of Pride'
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This move is important for several reasons. Firstly, it recognizes that a fancy college and an impressive resume is not the only aspect that needs to be considered in the recruitment process. Highly skilled candidates that are apt for the job can now be found outside traditional talent clusters as more people are acquiring critical skills on the job and even virtually from their bedrooms.

It’s also important to remember that reputed colleges are open only to a select few of the privileged population – it might be difficult to find new perspectives and talent from places that come from similar backgrounds. Hiring today requires more thought and assessment on what a role needs and who fits it best rather than following a privileged checklist of requirements.

The Bold Type is definitely one of those shows that have the potential to kick-start some important conversations. We love the portrayal of a supportive and safe workplace filled with friendships and fun and would highly recommend keeping this at the top of your binge-watch list.

About the author: Diya is an undergraduate student at St. Stephen’s College. Her interests include socio-legal research and criminal justice.

Image credit: Freeform/YouTube

Written by: Diya Maria Abraha

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  1. Parul Sharma

    I have finished watching the show recently. I am amazed how accurately and beautifully you have pointed out the major issues this show has managed to address. Loved it!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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Find out more about the campaign here.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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