Entrepreneur Barbie: Hit for Mattel, Total Miss for Women
Women entrepreneurs don’t fit into a single mold. One thing they do have in common is the confidence to take risks.
By Carrie Kerpen
Oh-Em-Gee! Entrepreneur Barbie launched at Toy Fair, and she looks exactly like me! She’s wearing a fitted pink silk suit. She’s holding a smartphone and a tablet. She’s wearing her classic high-heeled pumps. Doesn’t this sound like every female entrepreneur you know?
At last week’s American International Toy Fair, Mattel unveiled Entrepreneur Barbie as part of its “I Can Be” collection. Let’s take a look at why this was a smart move for Mattel, and why it’s an insult to women entrepreneurs everywhere.
First, let’s think about the rise in media coverage around female entrepreneurship. Over the past 10 years, there has been a 300 percent increase in global press mentions of female entrepreneurship. It’s a hot topic, as recent studies have shown that one in every 11 women in the U.S. identifies herself as an entrepreneur. So it was quite smart of Mattel to launch this doll at this time.
But let’s think about it for a second. If you were to draw a female entrepreneur, what would she look like? Would she be wearing a pink suit and heels? What’s her uniform? Does she always use a tablet? How old is she?
Being an entrepreneur is not like being a doctor. There is no uniform that we are universally required to wear.
Being an entrepreneur is not like being an ocean explorer. There is no scuba training required for all of us.
Actually, both doctors and ocean explorers can be entrepreneurs, or they can work for someone else.
What makes an entrepreneur is not an outfit or a smartphone or a briefcase. What makes a female entrepreneur is a woman who is confident enough to be willing to take a risk in order to control her own career. And that would be difficult to showcase in a Barbie doll. Here are some differences between Entrepreneur Barbie and Real Life Female Entrepreneur.
We are not all one type. Robert Goffee and Richard Scase wrote a book called Women in Charge: The Experience of Female Entrepreneurs. In it, they classified four types of female entrepreneurs: innovative, radicals, conventionals, and domestics. Agree or disagree with their classifications–it’s clear we don’t all fit one mold.
We’re not all so young. Most female entrepreneurs become entrepreneurs after a first or second profession. Many become entrepreneurs because we are fed up with working for someone else. In large part, that’s because we don’t have the flexibility to make our own hours, and that’s important because, for many of us….
We believe in work-life balance. Women don’t all start businesses because we’re home with kids and want something else to do. But many of us became tired of asking a boss if it was OK to leave early to take our children to the doctor.
A 1998 study on female entrepreneurship showed a direct correlation between family life and entrepreneurship. Jennifer Merluzzi, a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, revisited this study and found that:
Over the course of their lives, entrepreneurs and nonentrepreneurs are equally likely to be married, have children, get divorced, or remarry…. However, as a woman goes through one these events, the odds of her becoming an entrepreneur go up. In some window of time around the event, a woman predisposed by other factors to become an entrepreneur in fact makes the transition.
And it’s not just our families that we want to balance with work. Many of us also want time to pursue philanthropic efforts. (Did you know that seven out of 10 of us volunteer for community causes?) We want our time to be our own, and we want to use that time to work on what we feel passionate about.
If Mattel were serious about encouraging young women to start their own businesses, it could consider adding a few things to this doll’s packaging that would give the concept more impact and better represent female entrepreneurs.
How about including information on Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that seeks to educate, inspire, and equip girls with coding skills–skills that can benefit almost any entrepreneur today.
Or the toymaker could consider adding a pamphlet profiling different types of women entrepreneurs, to help give girls an idea of what entrepreneurship truly means.
Mostly, becoming a female entrepreneur is about having the confidence to take risks. And handing young girls misproportioned dolls who give them a skewed view of what’s beautiful probably isn’t going to help there.