Lego ditches gender stereotypes after study reveals role beliefs still persist

Parents are worried boys will be teased for playing with toys more associated with girls.
Parents are worried boys will be teased for playing with toys more associated with girls. Photo credit: Supplied

Lego has announced it is going to remove gender stereotypes from its toys following a study that revealed girls are still held back by society’s ingrained attitudes.

The Danish company, which sells its figures and building blocks in over 130 countries, commissioned the study from the Geena Davis Institute, founded by the Oscar winning actor in 2004.

The research surveyed nearly 7000 children and their parents in China, Czech Republic, Japan, Poland, Russia, UK and the US and highlighted both the need to rebuild perceptions around roles but also support creativity for all children.

While girls felt less restrained by gender biases compared to boys and are more open to different types of playing, more general attitudes regarding play and creative careers make access unequal and restrictive for them.

That was most apparent when parents who completed the survey imagined a man in most creative professions, regardless of whether they had a son, daughter or both.

In addition, they were almost six times as likely to think of scientists and athletes as men than women and over eight times as likely to think of engineers as men than women, the survey found.

Parents were also much more likely to encourage girls to dance, dress-up and bake while boys were pushed towards sports and programming.

"Parents are more worried that their sons will be teased than their daughters for playing with toys associated with the other gender," Madeline Di Nonno, the chief executive of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, told The Guardian.

"Until societies recognise that behaviours and activities typically associated with women are as valuable or important, parents and children will be tentative to embrace them."

The study also found that Lego was perceived as being inclusive, but parents were still more likely to encourage boys to play with it compared to girls.

An implicit bias assessment found 76 percent of parents would encourage Lego play to a son while only 24 percent would recommend it to a daughter.

Details of how Lego will remove gender stereotypes hasn't been specified, but the company said it "will ensure any child, regardless of gender identity, feels they can build anything they like, playing in a way that will help them develop and realize their unique talent".

Part of that is transitioning away from focus groups that are based purely around gender and instead focusing on "passions and interests", according to NBC News.

 "The benefits of creative play such as building confidence, creativity and communication skills are felt by all children and yet we still experience age-old stereotypes that label activities as only being suitable for one specific gender," Julia Goldin, chief product and marketing officer, said.

The company will also continue to work with the Geena Davis Institute to ensure Lego products and marketing are accessible to all and free of gender bias and harmful stereotypes.

The actor said she was heartened by the company's commitment to working out how to inspire creativity in girls through play and storytelling.

"We also know that showing girls unique and unstereotyped activities can lead to an expanded viewpoint of possibilities and opportunities," she said.