If Barbie had to limit her resume to one page, she’d have a really hard time. Over the last 50 years she has held over 150 different careers from veterinarian to aerobics instructor. She’s even been the President of the United States.
This month Mattel added a brand new career to Barbie’s resume — entrepreneur — as they unveiled their 2014 Career of the Year Doll.
Described as a “smart, stylish career woman” breaking through the “plastic ceiling,” Entrepreneur Barbie is meant to inspire girls to follow their dreams and remind them that, “If they can dream it, the can be it!” While the message is well meaning, the execution falls short in many ways.
First for the positives.
Women are starting their own businesses in record numbers. In fact, one in five start-ups globally are run by women and the rate of women running businesses is 50 percent higher than start-ups in general. Presenting girls with a Barbie that celebrates this career choice is great, especially since Mattel consulted with 10 real life women entrepreneurs who they coined as their “Chief Inspirational Officers.”
The list of successful women includes the founders of popular companies like Rent the Runway and One Kings Lane and most notably (at least in my book), Girls Who Code, a non-profit organization on a mission to close the gender gap in STEM education and careers.
Of Entrepreneur Barbie, Reshma Saujani of Girls Who Code said the following:
I think you can’t be what you can’t see so having inspiring positive role models for dolls that inspire young girls to be entrepreneurs is exactly what we need to inspire a younger generation of women to start their own businesses.
I too am a firm believer in the “if she’s see it, she can be it” rationale and for that reason I have to ask why oh why the head-to-toe pink? Why not dress Barbie in a classic black power suit or really anything else besides pink?
Having her dressed in pink might seem like a small detail, but it matters, particularly given research that suggests Barbie’s body and dress communicate messages of sexualization and objectification to girls. A recent study from Oregon State University also found that girls who play with Barbie see fewer career options for themselves than boys. Perhaps if Barbie’s body was more realistic and she wasn’t constantly dressed in pink, these findings would be different.
If playing with Barbie can actually limit a girl’s career aspirations, Mattel is going to have to stop suggesting that their dolls are role models for girls. When it comes to Entrepreneur Barbie they should have also thought a bit outside the gender box for the types of business girls could start. In a downloadable PDF activity for girls on their website, Mattel highlights cooking, crafts, jewelry making and animal hobbies as great launching off points for starting businesses.
Perhaps the most glaring omission from Mattel’s latest campaign is the missed opportunity of discussing the unfair challenges women entrepreneurs face because of their gender. Research has found that angel investors and venture capitalists overwhelmingly fund companies founded by men despite evidence that women-led companies out-perform companies with all male leadership team. That’s right. Even when women-led companies are doing better than their male competitors, they still get the short end of the stick when it comes to funding!
What’s more? A new study has found that even when a company’s pitch to an investor is identical, when it comes from a man it is more likely to get the money. That same study points out that women-led companies have only received 7 percent of all venture capital funding in the United States. Let me say that again, only 7 percent!
Igniting a conversation about this injustice, particularly given the stature of their Chief Inspirational Officers, would have been an extraordinary step forward. When you think about that, can we really count a Barbie decked out in hot pink with a brief case as a step forward? I think not.
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Photo Credit: Tracheotomy Bob
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