Last month Mattel released Entrepreneur Barbie (shortly after she joined forces with Sports Illustrated). And who can argue with sending a message of economic self-empowerment to young girls, especially as employment prospects seem ever more precarious?
But EB’s outfit — described by the company as a “sophisticated dress in signature pink that features modern color blocking and a sleek silhouette” along with “a glam necklace, cool clutch and elegant hairstyle” – set off a firestorm among actual women entrepreneurs, many of whom could not imagine working in such a foxy sheath let alone speed across the office or factory floor in killer heels.
LA’s creative community is fueled by entrepreneurs, many of them women; one is Emmanuelle Bourlier, below right, co-founder and CEO of Panelite, a company whose translucent honeycomb panels are widely used as partitions, facades, and energy-saving skylights. Since the arrival of EB she has been thinking about how she would have designed the doll’s working wear and shares her thoughts, below.
Sarah Robarts is another LA-based entrepreneur, running her own public relations company, Ballantines. She offers her view on why Mattel’s Entrepreneur Barbie got it just right.
But as I sit here in jeans and boots in front of the two monitors from which I run my own business, Mattel’s choice of that image as the representation of female entrepreneurship seems a sorely missed opportunity.
Entrepreneur Barbie comes in five different ethnicities – a nod to diversity – but like a crew of flight attendants from the era of Pan Am they all sport the hot pink sheath “uniform.”
I first wondered if anyone at Mattel actually knows any female entrepreneurs. Of course it does; for starters, the founder of the Barbie line was female, and it has plenty of smart women at the company.
Then I read Carrie Kerpen’s excellent article, in which she makes the case for why Entrepreneur Barbie misses the mark, and points to the extraordinary diversity of female entrepreneurship, asking” If you were to draw a female entrepreneur, what would she look like?”
What a compelling question. Suddenly I wished I’d been on the product design team at Mattel. What a fantastic opportunity for Barbie, both loved and lambasted for the impact she has on our kids, especially our girls, to become a source of real-world inspiration.
Entrepreneur Barbie would be great as a series. Keep the pink sheath Barbie if you like, Mattel, but add more dolls to the range. Show that entrepreneurs, the businesses they run, the way they look and dress are about as varied as. . .people themselves. What they have in common is a desire to do something new on their own terms and they are willing to take risks, sometimes too willing. That’s when they fail, and learn, and start again.
My Entrepreneur Barbie series would include:
A doll who runs her own creative firm
Let’s imagine a graphic designer, or an architect. She wears something slightly edgy and well designed, maybe by Maria Cornejo, Rick Owens, or Alexander Wang, and cool-tough shoes in which you can walk miles of New York sidewalk. Her packaging includes links to websites and apps related to design and architecture.
Whether in the physics, biology or computer lab, she is enabling innovation that will shape the future. Perhaps like Michelle Rowley (left) she is teaching kids to code. Or like Connie Chow she leads the Science Club for Girls. This doll might wear glasses (both these women do) and something that works for the lab and the podium. Dark tailored pants and a good blouse. her packaging would include resources about science programs for kids and girls, as suggested by Carrie Kerpen.
A working entrepreneur mom
This doll works runs a business from home, and she is also a parent. She wears jeans and boots, with a baby in an Ergo carrier while she holds a conference call on her cell phone. Or, she holds her baby while working on her laptop. As I struggle to think about how this doll could be typified I realize she can’t, and that perhaps there should simply be a “working mom add-on” package for any of the above dolls. Baby-carrier, laptop, cellphone, and some kind of lovey to keep the baby happy while you wrap up that call.
Consider Jessica Jackley (right) or Leila Janah. She might wear a sheath dress in fact, or dark jeans and a sharp blazer, but whatever she wears she is probably holding a carry-on bag for travel, and a small tape recorder to practice her upcoming speech. Her packaging includes information about companies like Kiva and Samasource and non-profits.
Entrepreneur Barbie App
Why not also create an Entrepreneur Barbie app where kids could learn more about the amazing and inspirational diversity of entrepreneurs, and even explore global entrepreneurship? For example, the growth of female entrepreneurship in Africa and India, and examples such as Olivia Lum who developed a water filtration system and went from funding her education by selling fruit on the street, to winning the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year Award?
Sarah Robarts (left) is founder and principal of Ballantines public relations company; her clients include Mandarin Oriental Hotels, The Sunset Marquis, The City of West Hollywood, West Hollywood Design District, the State of Arizona, and Caesarstone. She is also a mom of two, a tri-athlete, and she believes Entrepreneur Barbie gets it just right.
I like that she is a working and successful and glam woman. It is nuts that we grow up with dolls that look pretty and God forbid we talk about work or being entrepreneurs when we play as little girls. They should be playing games about companies they want to build and develop and explore creative games like that, not just Ken’s wife.
As for the heels. . .
I would run a marathon in heels. Love them. It’s very vain of me but I figure if I am working all day and cannot work out then I might as well work my legs out and get toned calves. I feel better in heels. I come from a family of models and 6ft plusers and I am 5’8″ but love being tall.
I love looking feminine. I hated working for corporate bosses before that insisted we dressed like men and not too feminine. I totally encourage my team to be as feminine as they want and get rid of these damn stereotypes that we have to dress like men to be taken seriously in the board room. Women can be glam and feminine and successful in biz and enjoy it while we do it. I love wearing dresses… DVF and Ted Baker are my staples.
What does a woman entrepreneur look like to you?
Below are some of LA’s entrepreneurial women, all previously featured on DnA. From left to right, top: Souris Hong-Porretta, cultural curator, creator of Outside The Lines; Edie Pereira, designer and founder of Specialty Dry Goods; Chisara (Chisa) Iwuagwu, elementary school teacher and founder of ShopUglySweaters.com.
Left to right, bottom: Jennifer Parry Dodge, fabric and clothing designer sold through her line ERMIE; Barbara Bestor, architect and co-founder of SOLA (Sisters of Los Angeles); Tanya Aguiñiga, artist and maker of products and furniture, shown at a Dwell convention on brink of giving birth.
We’d love to showcase our Angelen(a) entrepreneurs. Send us pics of yourself in your “entrepreneur” outfits.
Entrepreneur Barbie will be released in June.