A group of female toymakers is on a mission to help develop future women leaders in careers dominated by men.
And they’re doing it by promoting toys that require the imagination and critical thinking skills of science, technology, engineering and math, otherwise known as STEM.
Play is a child’s work
Through creative play, children discover what they want to be when they grow up. The trouble is gender stereotypes often get in the way, dictating how a girl should play (girls play with dolls) as opposed to a boy (boys build with erector sets and Tinker Toys). Whether it’s intentional or not, this customary pattern of rules weaved into our society limits a child’s future career choices to fields that are considered “appropriate” for their gender.
Toymaker Debbie Sterling, a Stanford-educated engineer, can vouch for it. “There are so few girls in engineering, it’s 89 percent male, because of deeply rooted stereotypes that guys are better at math and science,” she says. “But it’s not true. There is a lot of research that shows girls are not as confident in subjects they think boys are better at.”
Shining a light on the problem
A recent study by the Girl Scouts Research Institute concluded that girls are interested in STEM, they just lack the necessary exposure to springboard that interest into a career. Enter the toymakers:
- Sterling’s GoldieBlox (pictured above), a toy she designed to help girls develop the spatial skills that are important in engineering, comes with a story that happens to be the step-by-step instructions for building the toy.
- Jodi Norgaard’s Go! Go! Sports Girls dolls promote a healthy, active lifestyle, which the toymaker says helps build the confidence that females need to work in male-dominated fields.
- Winnetka’s Christy Kaskey developed Kaskey Kids, sports action figures that show girls you don’t have to be a boy to play an imaginary game of baseball, football, hockey or soccer.
- Stanford and MIT-educated engineers Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen designed Roominate, a build-it-yourself, fully-wired dollhouse, for girls to experience the engineering process of breaking down a large project into manageable parts.
What are some other ways you can get your daughter excited about STEM? Engineer Karen Purcell, author of “Unlocking Your Brilliance” (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2012), offers these suggestions:
- Be supportive of your daughter
- Enroll her in STEM programs outside of school
- Find her a mentor in a field she thinks is interesting