In the News, Watercooler

A Barbie-Doll Career: The Power of an Iconic Doll on the Future Workforce

Barbie has a new job. Actually, the legendary doll with inhuman proportions has two new jobs. This fall, “computer engineer Barbie” and “anchorwoman Barbie” will both hit toy store shelves. As reported in last week’s Wall Street Journal, toy company Mattel Inc. held an online election of sorts in January, encouraging young girls to visit the Barbie website and vote for Barbie’s next career. The choices included architect, anchorwoman, computer engineer, environmentalist and surgeon, and more than 600,000 votes were cast.

While the site’s target audience of young girls overwhelmingly wanted Barbie to be an anchorwoman, after the contest got a little press, droves of adults began voting for computer engineer Barbie. “Female computer engineers who learned about the election launched a viral campaign on the Internet to get out the vote and ensure Barbie would join their ranks,” writes WSJ’s Ann Zimmerman.

More than 1,800 Tweets mentioned the contest during January, and in no time, the women engineers had overcome the girls’ vote. “Computer engineer Barbie ‘won the popular vote’ and anchorwoman won the girls’ vote,” Zimmerman writes.

So that’s why Barbie has two new careers instead of one — Mattel decided to honor both the popular vote and the girls’ vote. But we still don’t know why thousands of smart, accomplished women really cared about the next incarnation of the Barbie doll.

Maybe they were just having fun, or maybe we women still feel the need to be validated in our chosen paths. (Anyone else ever wonder if you made the right career choice? If taking time off time to have kids, or not taking time off to have kids, was the right thing to do?)

Or maybe we just want our kids to think we’re cool. As a working mom, I admit I want to spend my time doing something that matters to the world, something that my kids will admire. My boys will get their first impressions of women from me, and through my example, I hope they’ll view women as smart, responsible and passionate people who make good co-workers, collaborators, partners.

For women engineers, whose numbers have fallen significantly during recent years, a similar focus on the next generation may have been a driving force behind the Barbie vote. “I doubt any of these smart, accomplished women actually care about a doll’s career aspirations,” says Amber Owens, a female engineer I know. “What they care about are their daughters’ career aspirations. Like it or not — and for the record, I don’t — they know their little girls get some of their ideas about what it means to be a woman from Barbie. Mattel may never correct Barbie’s measurements into something resembling an adult female who can walk upright, but if they’re willing to hand her an engineering degree, put her in some nerdy little glasses and give her a high paying job in a man’s world, well, good for Barbie. And good for little girls.”

What do you think? Do you feel the need for outside approval of your career path?