News & Views

Why Entrepreneur Barbie is such a good thing

by Chloe Markowicz

The more media a girl consumes, the fewer options she believes she has in life. This frightening realisation, based on research by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, explains why it’s so important for girls to be shown lots of different possibilities of who they can grow up to be. If they can’t see it, they can’t be it.

That’s why I’m so excited about Barbie’s latest career choice: entrepreneur. Looking like a mini Marissa Mayer, this new doll wears a pink sheath and black heels and is armed with a smartphone and tablet.  She represents what the Silicon Valley entrepreneur could look like, but doesn’t. And not because she’s better dressed (although she undoubtedly is), but because she’s female. 

Recent diversity reports from major tech companies reveal they’re made up of an overwhelming white, male and Asian workforce. Google, for instance, is made up of just 30% women. And what’s even more worrying is what’s happening at the top of these tech companies. Last week Facebook revealed that 77% percent of its senior level employees are men. Entrepreneur Barbie is not just a cute chick in a pink dress. She’s a powerful tool in educating girls that they could be the next Sheryl Sandberg. It’s telling who Barbie has chosen as her ‘chief inspiration officers’. These include the founders of successful online businesses like Rent the Runway and One Kings Lane, microfunding site Plum Valley and the non-profit Girls Who Code. With these women by her side, Barbie is breaking the plastic ceiling and showing girls that ‘if you can dream it, you can be it’. 

As Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, which is devoted to closing the gender gap in computing and other STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) told Wired: ‘Unfortunately we live in a culture where girls are bombarded with images of male coders and engineers that just don’t look like them. When you ask a girl what a computer scientist is, she usually pictures a geeky guy typing away. And then we wonder why girls don’t pursue careers in tech! We have to change popular culture and start showing more women, more cool, dynamic, creative women, in these roles.’

There’s a gender gap not just in the careers girls chose, but in the images they see. I was fascinated by a Cannes Lions seminar I saw Jessica Bennett, a contributing editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In women’s empowerment non-profit and Pam Grossman, the director of visual trends at Getty Images, give two weeks ago. They spoke of their work for the Lean In Collection, a hand-curated collection of imagery that promotes a more equitable, gender fluid type of world. These photos show women not just being super happy eating salad or balancing a baby and laptop, but in more authentic, aspirational ways. ‘If we really want to change the way women are perceived we need to change the images of what women can be,’ Grossman said.

And I couldn't agree more. We need to get to girls before the negativity of the world gets to them. Just check out this Always online video below showing the difference of how young girls and young women interpret the instructions ‘run like a girl’ or ‘throw like a girl’. That’s why Entrepreneur Barbie is so powerful. Sure she might be wearing pink and lets not get started on her unrealistic figure, but she is a woman at the top, showing young girls that they can be one too.