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Barbie’s pilot and engineer dolls encourage girls to reach for the skies and get into STEM

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Katy Henderson
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Barbie pilot doll

Barbie and Virgin Atlantic’s new collaboration aims to shed light on male-dominated careers for young girls. 

Once upon a time, Barbie was a thin, white plastic doll with cascading blonde hair and a penchant for high heeled shoes. However, in recent years, Barbie’s creator Mattel has made an effort to be more representative of various races, sizes and backgrounds, including a wheelchair-using doll and a doll with a removable prosthetic leg.

Now, though, Barbie has teamed up with Virgin Atlantic to show girls that women have choices, and anything is possible.

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That’s right, Barbie and Virgin have teamed up to release a range of special edition dolls, all of whom have pursued careers in aviation, in order to highlight different career options to young girls. Included in the range is a flight attendant, a pilot and an engineer.

The dolls have been designed in the likeness of real Virgin Atlantic uniforms and show ethnic and body diversity, reflecting the body types available in the Barbie line. The pilot doll has articulated ankles and flat shoes and wears a pilot’s uniform complete with wings and badge. The engineer doll wears flat safety boots, an access lanyard and noise cancelling headphones. The cabin crew doll pays homage to the iconic red Virgin Atlantic Vivienne Westwood uniform. 

So why has Barbie decided to take to the skies? Well, because statistics from the Women’s Engineering Society have indicated that only 12% of the UK engineering workforce is female and similar statistics show that only 4.3% of UK pilots are women, with the aviation sector in particular dominated by men.

The partnership between Virgin Atlantic and Barbie marks the start of a wider initiative at the airline to encourage more women into STEM and aviation careers

Research has identified that starting at age five, many girls begin to develop limiting self-beliefs and doubt their full potential – this is called the Dream Gap. 

And so, in 2018, Barbie set up the ‘The Dream Gap Project’, in a bid to show level the playing field and show young girls that they can be anything they want to be.

“It’s astounding that girls start believing they can’t follow a certain career path from as young as five and it’s our ambition we close this dream gap”, Phil Maher, EVP Operations at Virgin Atlantic, commented.

“By working with Barbie, it allows us to speak directly to our future generation of aviation workers, whether they aspire to be pilots, cabin crew, or engineers.”

As part of the Dream Gap Project, Barbie aim to release dolls in the likeness of 10 female role models each year. 

These dolls are based on real women, championing a range of exciting and inspirational careers, including mountaineers, journalists and scientists to name but a few, as well as prominent historical female figures and feminist icons, such as Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart and Rosa Parks.

The collaboration between Barbie and Virgin Atlantic doesn’t stop at the dolls, though. Their initiative includes exposure to the industry through school trips and annual open days at the airline HQ, where female engineers and pilots are present to inspire young girls. 

They have also launched a new social media campaign, #SeeHerFly, in order to raise awareness about the opportunities available to women in aviation. 

While it is acknowledged that this won’t change the gender imbalance overnight, Phil Maher explains that “it’s imperative we play the long-game, highlighting to primary aged children that any job role is open.”

In a world where the concept of femininity is so misguided, targeting younger female generations and showing them their full potential from a young age can hopefully play a huge role in combatting society’s gender norms for good.  

How can I get the dolls? 

The dolls will be available on Virgin flights and in key retailers later this year. The Engineer dolls will become available in 2020. 

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Image Credit: Virgin, Twitter

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