No child’s play – the move towards diverse and inclusive children’s product design and advertising

Two high-profile institutions have recently underlined the vital importance of considering diversity and inclusion in respect of children’s product design and advertising with two recent initiatives in this area.

LEGO aims to tackle gender stereotypes

A recent survey commissioned by the LEGO Group has highlighted that more needs to be done to tackle society’s entrenched gender stereotypes – which can not only impact a child’s creative development but also their future career paths.

Since 2015, the LEGO Foundation, the LEGO Group and UNICEF have been working together to “empower children to become creative, engaged and lifelong learners through play”. In addition to promoting their business principles which set out what companies can implement to support children’s rights.

In September 2021, the LEGO Group announced that it had commissioned a survey alongside the Geena Davis Institute to “better understand whether and how “creativity” is gendered”. This survey concluded that although girls feel more confident than boys to engage in a variety of creative activities, societal stereotypes are holding them back – with caregivers being three times more likely to encourage boys over girls to participate in programming games, sports and LEGO play. This paired with caregivers being six times and eight times more likely to think of scientists and engineers as men indicates that this engrained bias could also impact a child’s future career path.

Following this survey, the LEGO Group announced, on 11 October 2021, that it will remove gender bias from its toy products and marketing – particularly with an implicit bias assessment revealing that 76% of caregivers would recommend LEGO to their son compared to only 24% who would recommend it to their daughter.

UNICEF provides guidance to address stereotyping in children’s products advertising

Shortly after this announcement, UNICEF published their Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in Advertising Playbook (the Playbook) on 19 October 2021, in collaboration with the LEGO Group. The aim of this Playbook is to highlight different types of stereotyping that can have a harmful impact on a child’s development and strategies that companies can develop to help tackle these issues. In particular, Annex I to the Playbook provides recommended key performance indicators for companies to implement as a means of promoting diversity, equality and inclusion in the development, marketing and promotion of products designed for children as follows:

  • Strategic plans: should include diversity, equality and inclusion as a core principle rather than separate established objectives. A separate budget will also ensure that adequate resources are allocated to progress the same.
  • Indicators: diversity, equality and inclusion indicators should be set at all levels within a company. These should be monitored by both qualitative and quantitative indicators and targets (with responsibility for the implementation of the targets being clearly assigned).
  • Talent: external candidates from all backgrounds should be identified in order to acquire diverse perspectives within the company. In addition to this, statistics on employee diversity should be tracked and publicly shared.
  • Commitment and testing: a company should display their commitment to work against stereotyping. This could include checks in the hiring process when commissioning creative work as teams lacking diversity may find it more challenging to produce non-stereotyped products or to ensure that diversity is made a part of product testing.
  • Monitoring: inputting steps to assess that the creative process is taking into account cultural shifts, trends and expectations.
  • Internal strategy: long-term strategic plans and commitment on diversity, equality and inclusion should be developed and continually assessed for creative teams. In particular, for product development and marketing.
  • Internal workshops: should be implemented to raise awareness on how diversity, equality and inclusion can influence product development and marketing. In addition, all employees should be made aware that a product designed to be inclusive may be marketed in ways that do not promote positive portrayals for children.
  • Testing: for bias and the impact of advertisements on a diverse group of children. In particular, implementing regular checks on stereotyping and monitoring how children are portrayed in catalogue photography and videos - are different children in diverse settings and activities depicted or are stereotypes upheld?
  • Impact assessments: should be undertaken on diverse child stakeholders to ascertain how marketing can influence their insights. In addition to on current product marketing strategies to identify key areas to address, including the impact of non-stereotyped advertising on customer and brand loyalty.
  • Minimum standards: should be maintained in relation to stereotyping in line with industry and government practice.
  • External: championing diversity and inclusion externally by sharing best practices and lessons learned. In addition to running programmes with caregivers to raise awareness on gender disparity. The LEGO Group have already published their “10 steps to inspire creative play” guide to promote inclusive play amongst children.


In recent years, we have seen mounting pressure on toy companies to remove gender bias and increase representation amongst children’s products. In the UK, the Let Toys be Toys campaign have, since 2012, called for toys and publishing industries to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting toys and books as only being suitable for certain genders. At EU level, the COFACE Families Europe Network have similarly campaigned to highlight gender, disability and racial stereotypes in toy production. This pressure is now also being felt by retailers as shown by the recent law passed in California - the first US state that will require retailers, from 2024, to display toys and childcare items in a gender neutral way.

As a result, companies should be mindful of the above suggested key performance indicators as a means of increasing diversity, equality and inclusion amongst the development, marketing and promotion of their children’s products.   

These recent initiatives are warmly welcomed against this context, and several more initiatives are likely to follow.

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