Entrepreneur Barbie takes aim at glass ceiling

Mattel has unveiled a well-dressed, smartphone-toting version of its popular line of Barbie dolls, armed with real cash for entrepreneurial young women. But critics say it's just a marketing gimmick that trivializes the real issues faced by women in business.

But critic says latest iteration of popular doll trivializes hurdles faced by women in business

Mattel launches well-dressed, cellphone-toting version of its iconic doll 0:50

Perhaps it’s a sign of the tough job market: Barbie has struck out on her own.

Mattel Canada unveiled a well-dressed, cellphone-toting version of its iconic doll — called Entrepreneur Barbie — in Toronto on Wednesday. 

It’s unclear by her garb what company she runs; instead of a power suit, she sports a form-fitting, hot pink sleeveless dress, and her briefcase looks more like a designer purse. The only hint that this doll means business are her tiny tablet and smartphone accessories.

Entrepreneur Barbie is out to inspire young girls to dream big and perhaps one day be their own boss. And she’s ready to invest: Mattel also announced today a new Barbie Business Bursary Program where three budding Canadian entrepreneurs under the age of 18 will each get a $2,500 cash injection to fund their winning business idea.

The business doll already has a crew of women on staff, including Montreal entrepreneur Erica Diamond. She’s Barbie Canada’s chief inspiration officer and will help pick the bursary winners.

Diamond makes no apologies for Barbie’s attire. "She’s in a dress because we know that entrepreneurs don't have to be stuffy," she said.

"We need Entrepreneur Barbie so little girls can have a role model and can see someone who looks like them in the future and to know that when they grow up, they can become an entrepreneur."

Critic unimpressed

But business professor Wendy Cukier is not impressed. Critics have long complained that always fashionable and stereotypically perfect Barbie is not healthy for girls’ self-esteem. 

"I think both Entrepreneur Barbie and their $7,500 bursary fund trivializes the issues women in business generally face, and female entrepreneurs in particular," said Cukier, who teaches at Ryerson University’s management school.

Mattel unveiled a business-minded Barbie on Wednesday, but a critic says the effort just trivializes the real problems faced by women in business. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

More women are getting into business for themselves, but they still face barriers. A 2013 American Express study found that although the number of female-owned companies continues to climb, they are, on average, small firms that generate less than four per cent of America’s businesses revenues.

Cukier doubts Entrepreneur Barbie will encourage small girls to aim big. "I guess it’s better than Sports Illustrated Barbie," she said, referring to one of the doll’s recent and less-than-stellar occupations. "But the research really suggests that if you want to build confident, enterprising and risk-taking girls, they’re better off playing with Lego or [Mrs.] Potato Head."

​Cukier is referring to a recent Oregon State University study that found girls who played briefly with Barbie had less confidence in their own future, believing there were fewer jobs they could potentially do than boys. However, girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head fared much better.

Entrepreneur Barbie comes with smartphone and pink dress. (CBC)

But many successful women played with Barbie as a child, points out Alicia Sumar, Barbie’s brand manager at Mattel Canada, something Cukier agrees with.

Sumar also said Barbie has had many successful gigs over her 55 years — from astronaut to U.S. president. She added that while adults may have beefs with Barbie, children don't and see her "as a friend, a way to dream, to imagine, to experiment."

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