BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Eleven years ago, Jodi Bondi Norgaard began working toward bringing about change in the toy industry and breaking gender stereotypes. She created a company and its award-winning line of dolls, books, and apps designed to encourage girls to choose healthy and active play over fashion and body image.
After several years working to break into the toy market, her Dream Big Toy Co. succeeded in getting its Go! Go! Sports Girls on Walmart store shelves in 2015. The following year, she sold the brand to an established toy company, Jazwares.
Norgaard will share her story with students and faculty Friday, Oct. 26 at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Her presentation, “Creating Change and Breaking Gender Stereotypes,” will begin at 11 a.m. in room 1046 of Hodge Hall Undergraduate Center, 1309 E. Tenth St. Her talk, which is free and open to the public, is being presented by the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
It is the first of two events at Kelley this Friday focusing on successful women in business. Kathy Roeser, managing director and a wealth advisor at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, and Joyce St Clair, chief capital management officer at Northern Trust Corp., will speak with students at 1:30 pm in Hodge Hall 1050.
The inspiration for Norgaard’s company came in 2007 while shopping for a doll with her 9-year-old daughter. All they could find were fashion-oriented dolls that promoted an idealized body type, including “Lovely Lola,” who wore a short skirt, belly-baring clothing, high heels, and make-up.
“I realized there was a need for a positive doll for girls that would be age appropriate, proportioned properly and send a message about a healthy lifestyle – physically, mentally and emotionally – through sports,” Norgaard told Forbes last year.
Within two years, she had a prototype. But she ran into resistance from an industry that repeatedly told her, “Girls want fashion dolls.” She did not give up. In 2013, she successfully pitched her concept to three toy buyers at Walmart. Two years later, the company began selling Go! Go! Sports Girls dolls.
Since selling her company, she has continued her efforts to inspire and empower women and girls throughout the world. In 2016, she was invited by The White House to participate in a conference on breaking down gender stereotypes in media and toys.
She is a board member of Girls on the Run-Chicago, a board member of Kaskey Kids, an award-winning line of sports action figures; a founding member of The Brave Girl Alliance, a think tank of girl empowerment experts; and a member of Women in Toys.
Kelley: Your story is one of determination. It was a challenge bringing your products to market amid a toy industry that was resistant. How did you stay focused when you frequently were told, “Girls want fashion dolls?”
Norgaard: “I knew they were wrong and options were needed in the ‘pink aisle.’ However, I quickly learned that going against stereotypes is never easy and change can be slow. I persisted and was determined to create change. I won the top awards in the toy industry and I was featured in national media including ‘The Today Show,’ Forbes, the New York Times, Advertising Age, Parents, and Self. So, I knew I had a pulse on what our culture wanted. I knew I had a vibe that parents wanted more for their girls too.”
Kelley: At the time you were launching your product line, did you realize you were being a role model for young women – including your daughter – as a businesswoman? Why that was important?
Norgaard: “Initially I didn’t think I was being a role model for young women, but thought they needed to see strong role models. The saying, ‘She can’t be what she can’t see’ is true and my goal was to give girls more to see. Later in my entrepreneurial journey, I realized that I was a role model too. As for my daughter — a 2018 graduate of IU — she is pretty darn amazing and I see in her a lot of the same qualities she saw me use with my business — determination, resilience, passion and hard work.”
Kelley: More than 10 years later, you’re on the board of Girls on the Run, on the board of a company that makes sports action figures, a founding member of Brave Girl Alliance and a member of Women in Toys. Does this highlight progress in the effort to present more appropriate toys and learning materials for girls? Have things gotten better? What still needs to be done?
Norgaard: “Yes, I believe things are getting better, but it’s interesting how change was created in the toy industry by a few women seeing a need. After I started my line, Debbie Sterling started GoldieBlox, Alice Brooks and Benita Chen started Roominate, Julie Kerwin started I am Elemental and Laurel Wider started Wonder Crew. These women continue to push retail and media to do a better job portraying girls — and boys — beyond stereotypes. As consumers, we have a lot of purchasing power. If you don’t want a product for your child or in your house, don’t buy it. This will send a strong message to retailers and manufacturers.”
Kelley: Have things gotten better for female entrepreneurs like you?
Norgaard: “I still think it is tough, but resources for women business owners are growing — resources like mentors and advisors and there are in-person and virtual incubators. Also, large companies have started programs for women, such as Walmart’s Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative. Women entrepreneurs should leverage the resources already in place.
Kelley: What messages do you plan to share with our students based on your experience, particularly our female students?
Norgaard: “Persist when things get difficult. You can’t do it alone. Ask for help and find mentors. Challenge the status quo and call out stereotypes. Take advantage of opportunities even if they seem small. Believe in yourself. Strive for improvement, instead of perfection.”