WBI: Clutch Holds More Than Bricks Together

30 Oct 2021

Written by Megan Lum

I first discovered the Women’s Brick Initiative during Brickworld Chicago in 2019.  It was my first time attending Brickworld – I’d heard about the scale and size of the con before, so decided I had to experience it for myself.  I’d attended many conventions; and while Brickworld was undoubtedly larger than any other con I’d been to, it still had something in common with all the rest – I just didn’t see that many women.  While I had friends there, I still felt rather alone.

I’m not the only one who feels that way. According to LEGO, only about 14% of all adult fans of LEGO (AFOLs) are women.  I made it a point of talking to several women builders who were exhibiting at Brickworld, and invariably, our conversation turned to “there should be a group for women builders.” I started to think I should consider starting a women’s builders group. Fortunately, during my last half hour at the con, someone told me that “Alice Finch has just started the Women’s Brick Initiative.”

WBI was created as a result of two women having much the same conversation as I’d had with those women builders at Brickworld.  At Skaerbaek Fan Weekend in 2017, Alice Finch (of Hogwarts and Rivendell fame) and noted toy photographer Shelly Corbett met, and upon learning that they shared the view that there should be more women involved in the LEGO hobby, decided to do something about it.  As a result, the Women’s Brick Initiative (WBI) was born, with the purpose of inspiring women and girls to pursue their personal creative vision using the LEGO brick.   

Both Alice and Shelly live in the Seattle area, but had never met until they both traveled several thousand miles to Skaerbaek.  This is one of the reasons WBI exists – to provide an opportunity where women don’t have to travel just to find other women who enjoy LEGO.  I ended up joining WBI’s leadership team not long after that conversation at Brickworld.

Since its inception, WBI has worked toward bringing equity and diversity to the LEGO hobby while creating an atmosphere where all builders are welcome.  

The WBI does a varieties of things – interactive workshops, innovative research, and collaborative builds.  All of these efforts support one or more of WBI’s goals, with a recurring theme: Clutch holds more than bricks together.

WBI workshops have resonated with women in the LEGO community.  Before the pandemic, every WBI workshop has been filled to capacity with many waiting to get in.  They have provided a valuable avenue for women AFOLs who have felt that they didn’t quite fit in – much like I had at Brickworld – and offer a welcoming space to allow participants to connect, learn, and share experiences.  As Jyoti Patel, one of the directors of WBI and a workshop facilitator, puts it: “We are committed to changing the narrative and creating a safe space for women and those who feel like they’re on the outside, to be welcomed and supported.”

In 2020, WBI started its groundbreaking intern program, made possible through a partnership with Smith College. Thanks to the pandemic, all work was performed virtually.  WBI interns conducted research around gender and equality issues in the LEGO ecosystem.  Results of this research are posted to the Women’s Brick Initiative website and shared during presentations at LEGO conventions.  One of the results of this research was the unveiling of the diverse minifigure petition.  In December 2020, WBI published a Top Ten list for LEGO for Equity in Inclusion; something that will become an annual feature.

As the pandemic has shifted conventions online, WBI has continued their workshops and hosted collaborative builds virtually.  Notable among the collaborative builds has been the WBI Quilts, which has proved so popular several other LUGs have created their own.

To that end, WBI has a significant online presence.  In addition to the website where all news and research are published, WBI can be found on Facebook and Instagram.  There’s also an active Facebook group. WBI hosts monthly online socials that, thanks to the pandemic, are open to members around the world.

From the beginning, WBI has maintained a direct relationship with LEGO management, continuing the convention around diversity, gender equity.  WBI was recognized as a Recognized LEGO Online Community in 2018.

The pandemic has not slowed WBI and the future looks bright. 2021 brings the second year of the intern program, where we will continue our research into gender equity and social issues in LEGO. We will continue to demonstrate that clutch does, indeed, hold more than bricks together.

This article appears in issue 68 of Brick Journal magazine.