My attention has been drawn to the issue of woman in STEM careers a few times in the past couple of weeks. First, when Manufacturing.Net Associate Editor, Bridget Bergin, wrote about the lack of women in manufacturing and STEM careers, and the need for a modern Rosie the Riveter to drum up more enthusiasm.
In the article, Bergin points out that while women make up half the work force, they only amount to 24% of the manufacturing sector. So the question arises, how do we encourage more women to participate? Bergin called for a Modern Rosie as a solution. In her article, she asks whether a strong female figure, like Rosie the Riveter, would inspire more women to join the manufacturing and STEM space.
The second time came I came across the issue of women in manufacturing was from a more surprising source — a children’s toy.
While scrolling through emails, notifications, and internet polls I stumbled upon GoldieBlox – a building toy equipped with axels, pulleys, blocks, and ribbon designed to promote engineering interest in girls. The GoldieBlox site boldly declares, “We aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.” Now I know a toy may not be earth shattering, but it caught my attention.
I think it really struck me because of the large battle it is claiming to fight. The gender disparity in STEM career paths are truly staggering. According to 2011 census numbers, women make up 47% of the mathematical workers, 15% of computer science workers, 41% of life science careers and only 13% percent of engineers. These numbers, coupled with a widening skills gap and a surplus of open positions - to me - makes the goal of GoldieBlox so important.
This toy is targeting a demographic that in the past has not been as extensively encouraged in STEM. “I am creating GoldieBlox to inspire girls the way Legos and Erector sets have inspired boys, for over 100 years, to develop an early interest and skill set in engineering. It’s time to motivate our girls to help build our future,” says creator Debbie Sterling.
GoldieBlox isn’t only a construction toy either, it is also a book series starring Goldie, a young inventor who loves to build things. GoldieBlox is doing more than just making something pink in order to appeal to girls as well. Beyond color schemes, Sterling did extensive research to find out what kind of toys appeal most to young girls. She found that boys normally have strong spatial skills, which is why they often love construction toys. Meanwhile, girls have a tendency to have stronger verbal skills, making them more prone to enjoy reading, stories, and characters. This makes GoldieBlox a perfect combination of reading and building. “It appeals to girls because they aren’t just interested in the ‘what’ they’re building, they want to know the ‘why,’” says Sterling.
So while this is just a toy, I think it marks an interesting attempt to cultivate STEM interests in young girls. And that interest, not necessarily the toy itself, could help encourage girls later in life to pursue careers in engineering, manufacturing, mathematics and many more.
Stephanie Oppenheim, the co-founder of ToyPortfolio.com, says GoldieBlox’s goal isn’t the only one of its kind either. “I’ve been covering the toy industry since 1989, and it’s one of the most welcome trends we’ve seen in a long time,” said Oppenheim. “There’s such an uptick in toys that really engage kids in thinking about all the STEM topics.”
I know this toy won’t change the future of all the kids who decide to grab it out of the toy box, but I do believe it represents an important shift in how we influence young girls. Barbie isn’t the only role model, now you have Goldie: a girl who can solve all her own problems with a few well engineered tricks, and that is encouraging.
So in response to my fellow editor’s article, yes; I agree another Rosie the Riveter is sorely needed, but maybe she can also expand her ranks of empowered women to include the young, quick thinking Goldie.