The LEGO Group to remove gender bias and harmful stereotypes from LEGO products and marketing

In conjunction with the UN’s International Day of the Girl, LEGO has pledged to remove gender stereotypes from its products and marketing.

The LEGO Group commissioned research in this area that reveals that girls today feel increasingly confident to engage in all types of play and creative activities, but remain held back by society’s ingrained gender stereotypes as they grow older.

The study was carried out by the Geena Davis Institute in recognition of the UN’s International Day of the Girl and to mark the launch of a new LEGO campaign, ‘Ready for Girls’, which celebrates girls who rebuild the world through creative problem solving.

The research, which surveyed nearly 7,000 parents and children aged 6-14 years old in China, Czech Republic, Japan, Poland, Russia, UK and USA highlights the need for society to rebuild perceptions, actions and words to support the creative empowerment of all children.

The LEGO Group’s Commitment

Ensuring more inclusive play and raising the debate around gender norms is critical, not just for girls but for any child. The LEGO Group knows that boys are also battling prejudice when it comes to creative play and playing with toys that are traditionally seen as being for the opposite sex. 71% of boys vs. 42% of girls say they worry about being made fun of if they play with a toy typically associated for the other gender.

The company is committed to making LEGO play more inclusive and ensuring that children’s creative ambitions – both now in the future – are not limited by gender stereotypes.

We know there is work to do which is why from 2021, we will work closely with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and UNICEF to ensure LEGO products and marketing are accessible to all and free of gender bias and harmful stereotypes.

As an extension of LEGO’s Rebuild the World campaign, there’s this lovely commercial which flips the idea that girls need to get ready for the world, and instead that the world should get ready for girls, reinforcing the positive message.

What did LEGO’s research find?

The research findings show that girls are ready for the world but society isn’t quite ready to support their growth through play.

  • Girls feel less restrained by and are less supportive of typical gender biases than boys when it comes to creative play (74% of boys vs. 62% of girls believe that some activities are just meant for girls, while others are meant for boys), and they are more open towards different types of creative play compared to what their parents and society typically encourage.
  • 82% of girls believe it’s OK for girls to play football and boys to practice ballet, compared to only 71% of boys. However, despite the progress made in girls brushing off prejudice at an early age, general attitudes surrounding play and creative careers remain unequal and restrictive, according to this research:

For most creative professions, parents who answered the survey imagine a man, regardless of whether they have a son, daughter, or both.

  • They are almost six times as likely to think of scientists and athletes as men than women (85% vs. 15%) and over eight times as likely to think of engineers as men than women (89% vs. 11%).

The children surveyed in this research share these same impressions except girls are much more likely than boys to consider a wider range of professions to be for both women and men.

LEGO’s insights further indicate that girls are typically encouraged into activities that are more cognitive, artistic and related to performance compared to boys who are more likely to be pushed into physical and STEM-like activities (digital, science, building, tools).

Parents from this study are almost five times as likely to encourage girls over boys to:

  • engage in dance (81% vs. 19%) and dress-up (83% vs. 17%) activities
  • are over three times as likely to do the same for cooking/baking (80% vs. 20%).
  • are almost four times as likely to encourage boys over girls to engage in program games (80% vs. 20%) and sports (76% vs. 24%) and over twice as likely to do the same when it comes to coding toys (71% vs. 29%)

On International Day of The Girl, the LEGO Group is calling on parents and children to champion inclusive play. To help, they have developed a fun 10-step guide and invite parents to share photos of their child’s LEGO creations against a pre-defined AR backdrop featuring the words ‘Get the World Ready for Me’.

Why is this important?

While many parents perceive the LEGO brand as a good example of an inclusive toy brand, LEGO play is still considered more relevant to boys than girls, with 59% of parents saying they encourage their sons to build with LEGO bricks compared to 48% who say they encourage it with their daughters.

This view became more pronounced when parents were asked to complete an implicit bias assessment and 76% said they would encourage LEGO play to a son vs. 24% who would recommend it to a daughter.

So… what’s changing, or will change?

UPDATE: LEGO have released the following statement as clarification on the LEGO Ambassador Network.

LEGO Friends isn’t going anywhere. Next year’s LEGO Friends portfolio will have the most male figures we have had in our assortment to date.  As well as gender, we are also increasing the variety in our LEGO Friends characters with more older and younger characters (including the microdoll).  

We are also looking into representation for our Minifigures. Currently we have a larger proportion of male minifigures across the portfolio, but we remain committed to increase the number of female characters as we’re fully aware of how important it is to ensure children are able to reflect themselves in the toys they play with. 

If you’ve been following LEGO’s progress in the last few years – this shouldn’t be news to you.

For International Women’s Day 2020, I tried answering if LEGO have improved their gender diversity in sets, and it was a bit of a mixed bag, however, progress has been occurring.

Recent LEGO Collectible Minifigures series (like Series 21) have demonstrated much better male to female ratios than previous Series, and is indicative of things to come.

In LEGO city, we’re seeing really diverse representation and also a much more balanced male vs female minifigure ratio in modern City and Creator 3 in 1 sets. In particular, Space-themed sets such as the recent 31117 Space Shuttle Adventure.

That said, what will happen to LEGO Friends, the wildly popular theme aimed primarily at young girls? From the cartoon series to Netflix, and minidolls, to the iconic pastel-coloured Heartlake City, an Utopian (mostly female-inhabited) world that’s chockful of shopping centres, bakeries, pet salons and hairdressers.

LEGO Friends was extremely divisive when it debuted, and almost 10 years on (LEGO Friends celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2022), is one of LEGO’s most successful (commercially) themes, having made LEGO building more appealing to girls.

Some LEGO fans to this day, utterly reject minidolls, however as a father to a 5 year old girl, she loves them to bits, and while she also loves traditional LEGO, it’s quite apparent that she is drawn in by the aesthetic, setting and minidolls of LEGO Friends – which again, is testament to how girls and boys can play differently.

I can’t see LEGO shaking things up with LEGO Friends, being the success that it has been, but we may see more effort put in to the set designs that avoid classic tropes such as hairdressers, or bakeries (which to be fair, LEGO Friends does quite well), but with the 10th anniversary coming up, it might signal time for some big changes, depending on how you read into LEGO’s decision to avoid gender stereotypes and biases.

If I were a betting man, I’d say the 10th anniversary of LEGO Friends gives LEGO a good chance to rebrand and refresh the packaging, making it less pink and purpley, and possible more gender-neutral – an easy way to diffuse allegations of “pink = girls” marketing, while maintaining their best-selling LEGO theme.

Where we’ll see LEGO’s decision the most is their marketing and advertising – where they have the most creative control to do their best to avoid harmful and outdated gender stereotypes, and bias – more in the vein of LEGO’s iconic “what it is is beautiful” ad.

We will also likely see more female minifigures in sets, and the gender ratio close, or disappear altogether – but again, this is something that LEGO has been working on for their core, non-IP themes where they’re typically not constrained by source material.

That said, I think this is overall a positive move by LEGO. As the world’s biggest and most influential toy company, LEGO holds a lot of power and influence with how kids interact with toys, and most importantly, what messages are broadcasted to them, through play or advertising.

With sets like Queer Eye and Everyone is Awesome released this year, LEGO is setting the stage up to be more vocal about its progressive brand values, and I expect much more inclusive sets to be released which makes statements like these.

What do you think of LEGO’s pledge to remove gender bias and stereotypes from its products and marketing? Do you think it matters, and is this even a problem LEGO should tackle?

If this is a topic that interests you, and you’d like to learn more about championing female representation in LEGO, check out this post about 50 LEGO Creators, Designers and Creatives you should know, and also Women’s Brick Initiative, who publish some interesting research and analysis into this space.

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19 responses to “The LEGO Group to remove gender bias and harmful stereotypes from LEGO products and marketing”

  1. gregory ferko says:

    I don’t care about the genders that build the legos. And I don’t care if a girl wants to build a boy’s car set or a boy if he wants to build some family set. All I care about is me building what I want to build and what looks cool.


    This is a silly move by lego due to following unpopular moves. There was no problem with the old system and off course it makes sense for some genders to be doing specific roles greater realism!

    • Jay says:

      I don’t think it’s silly, but just a sign that LEGO is taking some leadership here as the world’s biggest and most influential toy company. It’s a really important acknowledgement that toys do contribute to how kids view/think about the world, and if they can remove gender bias (such as girls can only cook, or be nurses, boys can only be cops/firefighters) – it’s a big win for all.

  3. Andrew says:

    Just as an aside, how many of you (older) Lego fans are perhaps reluctant to discuss your hobby with strangers? We all have unconscious bias whether we realise it or not ;). Toys are for children, men should collect chainsaws …

    • Nichole says:

      I’m a 46yr old women and am confident enough in myself that I discuss my Lego hobby to anyone, even got my long time GP to start building some of the larger car sets!! My parcel post guy knows what’s in the boxes and not to leave them on the door step, have got my much younger sister building small animal sets (she’s a veterinary nurse), even the blood draw nurse I take mum to monthly knows I build Lego.

      Every new person I mention it to, strangers I’ll never see again to people I see often, all respond with interest and ask about the experience. I like to build sets, don’t MOC or MOD as I’m not that creative and mostly enjoy the relaxation and mindlessness of following instructions. Plus I have a debilitating illness, so each finished set, especially a large one, give me satisfaction for having got it finished. Then I show it to my 73yr old mum how is very good at showing interest then put the set back in the box, cling wrap it and store it away, so my OCD gets satisfaction from the hobby also!!

      Anyway, not sure how this new direction will go but as long as they don’t let the team that came up with the “Adults Welcome” slogan or 18+ Adult sets ideas it may actually do well and have a positive impact!

      • Håkan says:

        I heard there even have been shops that have asked for ID or have been refusing to sell 18+ sets to builders under 18. Maybe they have been paranoid of media scandals. Utterly bizarre!

      • Jay says:

        Hey Nichole, thanks for sharing your experience! I’m so glad to hear that you’ve had such a positice response, and yes, I can totally relate. It’s a really special moment in conversation when their eyes light up when you talk about LEGO – it’s like a switch flicks on and brings back positive memories of their childhood.

      • Andrew says:

        Awesome experiences, thanks for sharing Nichole. Very pleased to hear our hobby brings you so much joy. I think amongst my social circle I’m still something of a curiosity ;).

    • Jay says:

      I’ve found it really easy nowadays, whether it’s with parents who buy and are enjoying LEGO with their kids, or with adults rediscovering the hobby.

      It’s become so much more socially-acceptable to talk about LEGO as an adult hobby and not get weird looks.

      I collect trans-orange Ice Planet Chainsaws – does that count?×1024.jpg

  4. Andrew says:

    I wonder how much of this is nature vs nurture. I build Friends with my granddaughter, and Star Wars with my grandson. Is this because it’s what they’ve been given, or because it’s what they’re happiest building? Last time we built together I took over City all round, but this didn’t really excite either of them. Needless to say I’m keen for them to grow into a world where they can do anything.

    The youngest is going to be an astronaut, she puts together her Duplo spaceship with pride (I think Lego has done a great job in eliminating any distinction between boys and girls play in this range)

    I’m still waiting for the Technic / Friends crossover set to combine my two favourite themes 😛

    • Rose says:

      It is both, and to some extent is fine but as with everything, balance is the key. Our eldest is a son and even from a baby, he was always interested in how things work. I recall him watching me close a kitchen drawer and he reached up (gives you an idea of his size) to open and close the drawer while carefully observing the wheel mechanism underneath and how it was operating. It’s just how he’s always been. He’s 10 now and codes his own animations and is working on his first simple game. He’s always loved Lego, and especially Technic. He follows some YouTubers like JK Brickworks and Lego Paradise who build awesome working models and creates some of them at home. His sister, on the other hand, started with the same toys available as her brother, but played with them in different ways. The wooden blocks he would use to design architectural masterpieces with became people and animals in stories. This was not initiated by any adult, it was how she played as I observed her as her mother in her youngest years. She would also use them to build lovely houses with fences and so on, or sometimes to build architectural masterpieces to rival her brother’s, but there was a very clear shift in her focus of play. As a woman who myself excelled at and was employed in typically male-dominated fields, I was very anti-Lego Friends, but I have been thoroughly converted, and you know why? Well, my daughter had plenty of Lego here to play with, Classic blocks as well as City sets and so on that we already had, but her interest in it was nowhere near as strong as her brother’s and it began to decline quickly from even that low level. Then she began to receive gifts from school friends at birthday parties and had an influx of toys she’d not had before, including Lego Friends. And you know what? She started playing with Lego. She loved Lego Friends, and that was a stepping stone to developing skills with Lego building that wouldn’t have otherwise happened. For the past couple of years now, she and her brother have an ongoing Treehouse Wars with their Lego. He has a Creator tree house and she a Friends one, both extensively modified almost beyond recognition with various attack and defence devices haha, but her favourite way to play with these is when the war calms and the Lego version of her brother and his Lego friends come over to her treehouse for a tea party. You know? It’s just how they are, and although I was very much a tomboy, that’s less typical than how my daughter is, and I think people who mean well are actually trying to force girls to be something they often are not. And people somehow mistake these differences for being better or worse, or smarter or less smart, none of which are true. For what it’s worth, our daughter outperforms where her brother was achieving at the same age, which itself has a lot of contributing factors including the school system itself, but again, both of them are doing them just fine. It isn’t about smarts or anything, just natural differences as a trend. Be good if we could relax and not force girls and boys either into separate boxes nor all into the same box. There are differences on average, but plenty of overlap too and all of that is just wonderful and healthy and beautiful and part of the magic of life.

  5. Agent86 says:

    I personally think most Lego Friends buildings are better than their Lego City counterparts. I’m impressed by the consistent inclusion of schools, hospitals, houses, hotels, etc. Basically stuff other than police and fire and police / fire adjacent sets.

    I can’t wait to see the rumoured upcoming apartment building!

    It would be good to see some of the more … persistent use of pink and purple (and flowers, hearts, etc) toned down.

    But, while they include mini dolls, I think the majority will still consider Lego Friends to be “girls Lego”. I’m not sure if Lego will remove or revamp the mini dolls when they’re purportedly so successful?

    • Håkan says:

      Yeah, minifigs and minidolls look a bit off coupled together, but for the builds themselves, the scales are similar enough that it doesn’t matter that much. (Ever since the 70’s, Minifig scale has been rather off and Chibi-like, anyway.)

  6. Nope says:

    Far out! This gender stuff is getting way out of hand 🙄

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