Ahead of International Women’s Day 2021, Marie Claire’s Editor-in-Chief Andrea Thompson sat down with seven incredible women's equality advocates for an inspiring discussion on the importance of female role models, and the brilliant new legacy of Barbie
“Girls come from an unequal footing. COVID-19 has exacerbated that inequality – pushing us back a generation," Dagmar Schumacher, Director of UN Women’s Brussel Offices, told Marie Claire's Editor-in-Chief Andrea Thompson during our live International Women's Day panel discussion, in association with Mattel.
It's no secret that the pandemic has disproportionately affected women and girls. Since March 2020, Marie Claire has been spotlighting the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on women's careers and gender equality; both at work and at home.
According to research by UN Women, women are overrepresented in many of the industries hardest hit by COVID-19 – with 40% of all employed women across the globe working in sectors like retail, hospitality, and entertainment. But as Dagmar Schumacher warns, the setback of hard-won strides towards gender parity is far from being a problem just for the here and now.
The pandemic's effect on gender equality is likely to reverberate through generations to come, with an estimated 11 million girls across the globe at risk of leaving school this year due to the unprecedented disruption to their education.
So suffice to say that championing female role models, and empowering the next generation of girls, has never been more important.
Which is why Marie Claire teamed up with Barbie, UN Women UK, and a host of incredible female change makers for a frank and inspiring discussion on fighting for gender parity in our post-pandemic world.
"For 33 years, Marie Claire has championed women's empowerment and lead the way in showcasing positive diverse role models for women. Never has that been more important than today, as research shows the devastating effect the pandemic has had on women and girls," Andrea Thompson told the audience of over 200 global attendees.
"According to UN Women, the pandemic will push 47 million more women and girls below the poverty line, reversing decades of progress. More worrying is the fact that only 1 in 8 countries worldwide have measures in place to protect women from the social and economic impacts. We urgently need work together to take action. There is a lot of work to do, but at Marie Claire, we've always believed that out of the most challenging times comes the opportunity to reflect, reset and shift the dialogue to create positive change."
Andrea was joined by a prestigious panel including The European Space Agency’s Chief Diversity Officer Ersilia Vaudo, CEO of Step Up Delores Morton, Founder and Chair of Inspiring Girls Miriam Gonzalez, EMEA Barbie Marketing Director Isabel Ferrer de Casacuberta, UN Women's Dagmar Schumacher, broadcaster Clara Amfo, and athlete Kristina Vogel.
"Becoming a role model means so very much to me, as having role models growing up was vital," Barbie's newest role model and Marie Claire Future Shaper Clara Amfo told MC Editor-in-Chief Andrea Thompson during the discussion.
Overcome with emotion as she looked at the new doll created in her likeness to mark International Women's Day 2021, a tearful Amfo said how happy she was that little girls who may once have felt 'less than' might look at her doll and feel they were represented.
"We cannot underestimate what sponges children are," she said. "I remember the moment I first saw Oprah on TV and what that meant to me as a little girl growing up."
Amfo joins a prestigious line-up of previous Barbie role models – including activist and model Adwoa Aboah, boxer Nicola Adams, actress Zendaya, and double Olympic track cyclist and fellow panellist Kristina Vogel. (To name just a few.)
Launched in tandem with the brand's Dream Gap project in 2018, Barbie has since highlighted the boundary-breaking stories of more than 60 historical and modern-day role models; inspiring the next generation to pursue their passions, and push through failure.
Want to know the key takeouts from the event? Here's what our esteemed panel had to say...
Why female role models are needed now more than ever
Dagmar Schumacher – Director of UN Women’s Brussel Offices: 'Role models are essential'
“Girls come from an unequal footing and Covid-19 has exacerbated that inequality, pushing us back a generation," Dagmar Schumacher told Andrea Thompson during the discussion. "There is a tremendous danger that we will counterbalance everything we’ve spent so long building. We need to draw attention to this, through policy papers and statistics otherwise it just won’t be talked about and measures will not be adjusted.
"Now, in 2021, we have just 22 female heads of government and heads of state in the world. I think this has a tremendous impact on girls. They see that the big decision makers in politics are men. I think we need tremendous advocacy to make a difference here. We have a long way to go."
Delores Morton MBA – CEO of Step Up: 'We need role models who don't downplay themselves'
“Girls we work with often don’t feel comfortable speaking with authority," said Delores Morton, CEO of Step Up – a nonprofit that mentors high school-age girls, allowing them to reach their full potential.
"Regardless of the compliments they receive, they take them with humility and downplay their accomplishments. We see this all the time and it starts so early, because we’re not conditioned to praise our accomplishments outside the traditional aspects of what we do," she told Andrea.
"Having a role model changes that as we’re able to watch women stand proudly and proclaim how they’ve been able to achieve success, setting great examples for others.”
Miriam Gonzalez – Founder and Chair of Inspiring Girls: 'It's not an issue of finding role models, but connecting them'
“Growing up I wanted to be a politician, and I found it really difficult to access female role models," Miriam Gonzalez, Founder and Chair of Inspiring Girls, told Andrea. A global campaign striving to connect girls with inspirational role models, Miriam works with partner organisations all around the world to implement change.
"I have been aware of gender issues throughout my life. Data has shown that 55% of girls aged 11-21 are looking for access to female role models," she said. "There isn’t an issue finding role models, but in connecting them. They don’t make it into magazines or television programmes so Inspiring Girls is all about connecting them - we’re doing more of this with a greater intensity post-Covid.”
Ersilia Vaudo – Chief Diversity Officer at The European Space Agency: 'We need to teach girls to embrace failure'
"What is great about the dream gap is that it starts with girls in primary schools, where their STEM identity can be built and developed," Chief Diversity Officer at The European Space Agency Ersilia Vaudo told Andrea during the discussion.
"We need to put the pressure on now, otherwise we won’t empower girls into these jobs later on. We need to teach them to embrace failure – to fail early, fail smart and learn from it. Failure can block girls from trying, and we need to show there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Clara Amfo – Broadcaster and Barbie’s newest role model: 'You can really find a role model in everybody'
“Becoming a role model means so very much to me, as having role models growing up was vital," said broadcaster Clara Amfo of her new role as Barbie role model for 2021.
"There is a potency and power to feeling invincible, but it’s also about how you’re brought up and the images you provide children with. There’s a misconception that role models need to be super high profile. My role models were my school teachers, the people in my family, the woman that works in the local shop," the former Marie Claire Future Shaper told Editor-in-Chief Andrea Thompson. "It’s all about speaking with people and listening to people. You can really find a role model in everybody.”
Kristina Vogel – Germany Double Olympic Champion and Barbie role model: 'I want to inspire girls to dream a little bigger'
“I want to inspire girls to dream a little bit bigger," double Olympic track cycling champion Kristina Vogel told Andrea. Without doubt, the athlete and Barbie role model has already inspired thousands of young women to pursue their goals.
"We all have ups and downs, and mine may be different from yours," she said. "But I always remember what I have achieved, where I want to go, and how much I love life. In sport, there is no poor, rich, white or black – you’re just an athlete. When you want to achieve something, you do something about it. The great thing with sport is that every young girl can learn from it.”
Isabel Ferrer – Head of Marketing at Mattel EMEA: 'There is always more to do'
“There is a spotlight on levelling women’s equality," Head of Marketing at Mattel EMEA Isabel Ferrer told Andrea. "However, New York University’s research on the dream gap, as well as recent UNESCO research, has shown us that it’s not only adults affected, but young girls too."
"As a brand whose purpose is to inspire the limitless potential in every girl, we think that helping to close the dream gap is key, and we’ve been on a journey to champion this since 2018. The incredible panel we had today is testament to the importance of the topic and the level of support we’ve seen to date, however there is always more to do, including a combined call to action for all to become role models to young girls – and women – in general.”
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Kate McCusker is a freelance writer at Marie Claire UK, having joined the team in 2019. She studied fashion journalism at Central Saint Martins, and her byline has also appeared in Dezeen, British Vogue, The Times and woman&home. In no particular order, her big loves are: design, good fiction, bad reality shows and the risible interiors of celebrity houses.
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