Innovation And Diversity The Powerful Combination Behind Barbie’s New Line Up

The business of dolls is powerful, and Mattel is on a mission to continue to push boundaries in recognizing the influence and power of Barbie dolls to challenge gender stereotypes. A new range of Barbie dolls has just launched, reinforcing her role as the most diverse fashion doll in the world. The latest line-up is taking Barbie to a new level in her role as the most diverse fashion doll in the world, creating new ways to help children learn how to challenge gender stereotypes. A new line of Barbie, a new line up of dolls, has launched celebrating a line up of European professional sportswomen as official role models to honor International Women’s Day and continue efforts to close the Dream Gap. The World Health Organisation (WHO) identified one of the strongest recommendations to engage more girls into sports is for schools and wider stakeholders to develop sports and physical activity that are “sensitive to girls’ needs and interests.” Role Models are the lifeblood for girls to see themselves in successful women and continue to inspire and remind them they can become part of this world. The newest line up of dolls includes; fastest British female runner Dina Asher-Smith (UK), Amandine Henry (France) National French Football Captain, Teenage Para Swimmer, Sümeyye Boyacı (Turkey) and World Champion Sabre Fencer Olga Kharlan (Ukraine). 

Different Barbie Models
Collection of Sports Barbie Models launched in 2020 MATTEL 2020

Dina Asher-Smith, the World Champion and the fastest British woman in History explained the significance of the dolls; “Growing up, sportswomen were less visible in the media, and there is still a gap when it comes to women’s sports, which is why representation is so important. For Barbie to champion female athletes and different sports shows future generations that anything is possible. I hope little girls will see my doll and be inspired to take up and continue to enjoy sports!”Today In: Leadership

Mattel has a history of launching different versions of Barbie; however, more recently, the focus has been on breaking stereotypes that hold girls back in the fields of sports and science. Beyond Barbie, Mattel has launched gender-neutral dolls for boys and girls, widening the opportunities to allow all children to play together. Speaking exclusively to Forbes Chief Operating Office, Richard Dickson describes the opportunity for reinvention, as Barbie had experienced thirteen years of declining sales pre 2014. She was viewed as out of touch and not an inspiration for parents or their daughters. Despite powerful emotional attachments to the doll, Dickson saw this challenge as an opportunity to shift the conversation from a monologue about the product to dialogue with consumers. In his role Dickson combines three critical elemets; executive responsibility for the Global Category Management Teams, a role he created, along with responsibility for driving growth across toy categories in Mattel and also leading the Design & Development group, which serves as Mattel’s engine of design-led innovation and leading the Franchise Mangagement group, which leads the expansion of the Company’s brands into content development and distribution, consumer products, digital gaming, live events and other strategic partnerships.

Richard Dickson standing.
Richard Dickson, President and Chief Operating Officer, Mattel Inc. MATTEL 2020

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Leveraging his role across these areas provided the opportunity for Dickson to identify how to create the shifts needed, firstly in attitudes towards Barbie and then through the business. The transformation required serious maneuvering, and so Dickson and his team focused on two critical questions: 

The Foundations: what made Barbie great, to begin with?

The Future: what more could the brand do? 

The series of discussions enabled Dickson to build momentum and to create the conditions for the evolution of change across the whole organization, not just a specific function. For Mattel, launched in 1945, the intention is to nurture a culture that demonstrates modern ways of reflecting diversity, inclusivity, and sustainability. The History of Mattel has been a driving force for the current shift in thinking, drawing on the genius of success from the pioneering teamwork of Elliot and Ruth Handler. Dickson argues, “if you can understand the genius and what makes it great, then you have a chance of sustaining and growing this spirit and influence the future of play.”

Creating this culture begins with the premise of building trust; Dickson is clear, “If we are a place where people feel they belong, then we will create products for anyone.” The fundamental question for Mattel is how is our community reflected in our workplace? Building trust is complicated, but a reliable starting place is infusing empathy into leadership, laying the foundations for the next generation of empathetic leaders. Dickson recognises the value of these leaders who listen to their colleagues and behave in a more belonging way. The progression from diverse teams to Innovation requires conscious efforts to draw out insights from team members. Insights play a more critical role than idea generation, extracting these nuggets require leaders to shift the focus onto problem-solving and creating a culture of curiosity. Building trust where team members dig deeper in their personal experiences to understand their customers, in other words – all ideas are welcome. Dickson states, “We have to be that to ourselves before we can do that to others.” In other words, as a leader building a culture of trust where difference celebrated and everyone digs deeper.

Placing design at the core of the work, Mattel has become a design-led company valuing human-centered design-thinking. Bringing design-centered thinking to the heart of thinking requires different stimuli from a range of sources. The launch of the Dream Gap campaign has created a progressive way to change the world, inspiring for girls to feel empowered that they can change the world. Launching the next wave of dolls, Creatable World challenges gender stereotypes are not easy; however, to keep moving in this direction, teams need to become even more comfortable with risk. Cultivating a risky culture means celebrating failure, not to the detriment of productivity, but failing fast. Creating opportunities to move on – this is where empathetic leadership becomes critical among teams. Venturing into unchartered territory for a global brand requires a healthy dose of entrepreneurial leadership, balancing insights and ideas with an appetite for risk and tolerance for failure. Nurturing creativity requires individuals to feel comfortable to share lateral thinking and wacky suggestions that might create breakthrough products. Achieving a leap of entrepreneurial thinking does not mean free falling. Instead, it demonstrates a careful balance between art and science. Art represents the creativity and willingness to share insights, while the science remains firmly rooted in the data, monitoring, and measuring progress. Analysis of data has never been more critical in providing contexts for ideas, and more crucially, insights, intellectual analysis navigates the route for decision-making. When it comes to impact, this approach has paid off not only in opening up more conversations through grass-roots projects but financially as well. In EMEA, the largest international region, Mattel’s performance outpaced the industry, and despite the ongoing challenges facing the retail sectors, sales increased by 8% for the year.

World para swimmer champion holding Barbie Doll
Sümeyye Boyacı World Para Swimmer Champion “I have no arms, but I have wings that no one has ever … [+] MATTEL 2020

Challenging the Future of a well-established brand, such as Barbie, could be considered to be high risk, but the greater risk would be to do nothing or even take minuscule incremental changes. In making these leaps, Mattel has broken the mold for dolls to encourage the most diverse range of role models who can find inspiration for themselves and their friends in every new Barbie they meet.

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