A deep dive into Barbie’s world

Barbie dolls now come in all shapes and sizes, reflecting the diversity of current society. But has Mattel, the company behind the Barbie doll, also adapted to modern corporate standards?

barbie dolls inclusivity
Is Mattel's inclusion of barbie dolls with disabilities enough?

What is going on?

Society’s prescription of the ideal physique is everchanging – and while many of us may picture beauty pageants or fashion shows as the main drivers behind such expectations, it is to a large extent the work of a single company that dominated the past 60 years of body image standards.

Since its creation in 1959, the Barbie brand has been at the forefront of promoting hardly attainable body image standards – for which it was often heavily criticised, even for scientific reasons. Research shows that the probability of achieving a Barbie-like body shape (estimated BMI of 16.24) is less than 1 in 100,000 – good luck!

Mattel, the company behind the Barbie doll, has recognised that the 60s mentality around body image is long gone. In an effort to capture social change, Mattel are adjusting the dolls’ body type, skin colour and hair textures as well as introducing special editions.

There is now a Barbie in a wheelchair, with vitiligo and wearing a hijab. Barbies with gender non-stereotypical occupations, such as Barbie Astronaut, Arctic Rescuer, Engineer or our personal favourite – the Palaeontologist Barbie (serious Ross-from-Friends vibes) can also be purchased to encourage the next generation of young people. 

In their latest Barbie special edition, Mattel honours the women fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, including Dame Sarah Gilbert, who led the development of Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine. In the hope that Mattel is adapting to modern corporate standards just as well as it is to social change, we’re intrigued by what the company’s sustainability data may tell us!

What does the data tell us?

To answer this question, we’ve launched our own, sustainability-focused beauty contest – with Mattel as the one and only contestant.

The company scores relatively well (above the neutral point of 50/100*) on environmental and social metrics – both from a sector-specific and sector-agnostic perspective. However, what makes the judges give a rather mediocre verdict is the below-average Governance score (measuring a company’s performance on the key aspects of Forensic Accounting, Corporate Governance, Capital Structure, Business Ethics and Transparency) and Diversity feature (measuring the representation of and equal opportunity for women and minorities in the workforce and on the board) score of 44/100*.

From a Diversity perspective, this places Mattel well below its competitor, Hasbro (scoring 57/100* In Diversity). While Mattel’s Governance score is still recovering from a 2017 accounting scandal, the reason for their lacking Diversity score remains unknown. This being said, the judges advise that beauty is equally defined “by the inside and the outside”. 

What does this mean?

Be body positive! Women’s and men’s physiques have experienced decades of incredible scrutiny (as we discussed in one of our recent Weekly Doses of ESG). But as we’re approaching the second quarter of the 21st century, the importance of a symbiotic, healthy relationship between mind and body is being recognised – and with this, body image standards are changing, allowing for more freedom of expression and identity.

Mattel’s efforts in product diversity are a welcome step in the right direction, as the doll has its very own “influencer status”. This comes with a serious amount of responsibility. While Mattel should focus on improving aspects within its own governance structure in the years to come, we believe that Barbie’s future lies in the empowerment of today’s youth, contributing towards a generation of confident individuals.

Arabesque is a global group of financial technology companies offering sustainable investment, advisory, and data services through advanced ESG and AI capabilities.  

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