Architect Barbie
This time, Architect Barbie lost fair and square. In separate votes — one online and the other a survey of girls around the world — Computer Engineer Barbie and News Anchor Barbie won the right to be Mattel’s newest dolls. “At this point, I realized that democracy wasn’t working for me,” Stratigakos says. So she joined forces with architect Kelly Hayes McAlonie, director of the Capital Planning Group at SUNY Buffalo. McAlonie is writing a biography on Louise Blanchard Bethune, who in 1888 became the first woman admitted into the American Institute of Architects.

The two women wrote an impassioned letter to Mattel, complete with statistics and facts about why Architect Barbie made sense. They received a polite acknowledgment letter, and Stratigakos was not happy, saying she felt like she had written a fan letter to a movie star and had received an automated reply. Several weeks later, however, she got a call from a Mattel representative. The toy company had reconsidered. Stratigakos was asked to help create Architect Barbie for the 2011 version of the doll. “We always try to partner with women in the industry to ensure that the doll is an accurate representation of that career,” says Michelle Chidoni, director of communications for Mattel North America.

During the next six months, Mattel explored the world of architecture while Stratigakos and McAlonie and immersed themselves in the art of toy making. “Creating Barbie as a professional was not just about miniaturizing the adult world, but rather about translating it into a child’s terms,” Stratigakos says. “In working with the designers, we sent a list of 25 possible accessories and focused on simple volumes, clean lines and basic colors for her outfit.”

In May 2011, more than 400 local girls gathered at the AIA convention in New Orleans for the unveiling of Architect Barbie. They attended architecture workshops led by women, learned about the profession, discussed the work of women in the field and got a chance to design Barbie’s Dream House.

“Whenever we launch a new career, specifically ones that are underrepresented by women, it’s a big rollout with a significant amount of buzz,” says Chidoni. “It was great working with Despina and Kelly and to get their valuable insight into the profession.”

The result — an 11 ½-inch-tall blonde in a blue dress, black jacket, ankle boots and funky glasses carrying a pink blueprint tube and a hard hat – sparked debate, not all of it positive. Some criticized the doll for being over-stylized, while others said gender-specific toys perpetuate stereotypes.

Stratigakos is not bothered by such comments. “If Architect Barbie gets us talking about how to encourage and keep women in the profession, then more power to her,” she says. “I look forward to the day when little girls claim hard hats and construction sites as just another part of their everyday world.”

MELBA NEWSOME is a Charlotte-based writer whose work has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Maxim, The New York Times and O, The Oprah Magazine.