Why do you think there are so few women in executive leadership positions in toy companies?

Case Application 2 The Challenge of Toys for Girls

The long awaited release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was quickly followed by a toy market controversy. The absence of the female lead character Rey from action figure sets and a Star Wars-themed Monopoly game sparked a negative reaction from fans. Hasbro said the company intentionally left Rey out to avoid revealing her important plot role before movie goers were able to see the movie. However, a #WheresRey social media campaign quickly highlighted the gender disparity in the toy products and Hasbro eventually responded with the Rey figurines. Was this an isolated incident? Unfortunately, the toy industry has struggled with gender-related issues for many years, and the sales of toys for girls have lagged. Even Barbie, who has been around for more than 50 years, has often faced a negative public reaction. Many have criticized Mattel for contributing to body image issues in young girls due to Barbie’s unrealistic body proportions. After declining sales, Mattel recently released new dolls with varying body types. The new options include tall, petite, and curvy-shaped dolls. However, some believe that the Barbie doll still overemphasizes beauty and is not a positive toy for young girls. Lego has also struggled with creating products for girls. After years of a gender- neutral approach, Lego created products to target girls in the 1990s. However, this move had little success as some noted their girl product line was just a pink and simplified version of what they considered their boy line of products. In 2012, the company released a new line of “Friends” Lego sets targeting girls. The “Friends” line did grow sales; however, the sets were criticized due to their limited functionality and emphasis on gender stereotypes. The sets featured a pastel colored salon and swimming pool and suggested a life of leisure for the female characters. Lego finally had some success with girls in 2014 after it introduced the Research Institute line of figurines that included 119  professional women such as an astronomer and a chemist, but this was a limited edition set offered only for a short period of time. Toy sales have trended down over the last 10 years, and some suggest that failure to sell to girls impacted this decline. The toy industry doesn’t seem to understand what girls want, often emphasizing a homogeneous image of girls who like the color pink and princesses. Parents are concerned, many believing the toys that are most available to girls such as those related to makeup and homemaking only work to enforce gender stereotypes that may affect girls’ aspirations. Furthermore, while boys are exposed to toys that emphasize exploration and invention, boys also see the girl toys that emphasize that caring for babies and homes is girly and undesirable for boys. Why can’t toy companies figure out how to create toys that both parents and girls love? Is the problem the lack of women in the executive management ranks of the toy companies? Lack of women in leadership roles is a problem across many large companies. According to Catalyst.org, while 45 percent of the labor in S&P 500 companies are women, they only make up 25 percent of executive positions and hold only 20 of the 500 CEO slots. A quick look at the management teams at the Lego Group, Mattel, and Hasbro shows a similar pattern. While women make up almost 30 percent of Hasbro’s top management team, women make up just about 10 percent of Lego’s executive team and all five of Mattel’s top leaders are men. There is an opportunity for toy companies to grow their sales in the girl market; however, to do so the toy industry needs to rethink their approach to the girl category. This kind of change is at a strategic level, and therefore top leadership matters. A more gender-balanced management team could better understand the female customer base and drive innovation to create toys that parents want to buy for girls.

Discussion Questions

5-18. Consider the toys you played with when you were young. What do you think of the toys that were marketed to girls?

5-19. Do you agree that gender diversity at the management level at a toy company could help a company strategically?

5-20. Why do you think there are so few women in executive leadership positions in toy companies?

5-21. How could toy companies improve the gender diversity of their leadership teams?

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