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Debbie Sterling: Promoting STEM in the Pink Toy Aisle

If you take a stroll down the “pink” aisle at the toy store, you’ll come across princesses, dress-up kits and dolls. With an abundance of these popular items, it’s no wonder research shows that girls lose interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields as early as age 8. While all of these items are a great way for girls to interact and imagine, it’s time for us to alter the way we think about toys for girls.

 

When I founded GoldieBlox in 2011, I didn’t create a company just to sell toys — we’re on a social mission to change the way we think about toys for girls, as well to shrink the gender gap in STEM fields. Careers in STEM, and engineering jobs in particular, are among the fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs in the country. But the engineering profession is 87 percent male. I believe there are millions of girls out there who are engineers, but just don’t know it yet. At GoldieBlox, we aim to provide girls with options and show them that it’s normal to take an interest in engineering — and possibly even pursue it as a career. Having been in the male-dominated field myself, I faced a number of disadvantages. I realized the need to change this disparity.

Video courtesy of FreeEnterprise.com.

While studying engineering at Stanford University, I always wondered why I was one of only a handful of women in every class. From the first class on, I discovered engineering wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t nerdy, it was actually very artsy — with assignments like designing an object to launch a tennis ball as far as you can using a soda can and a piece of string. I fell in love with my major and the desire to help more girls enter the field followed me for years after college. After months of research and planning, I landed on the idea of a construction toy designed specifically for girls.

I found that simply creating a pink building toy wasn’t enough. Young girls are far more avid readers than boys, and they internalize and learn more effectively through storytelling. I began to play with and babysit my friends’ kids on a more regular basis, to better understand the way they like to play and create.

Through observation, research and a love for drawing, design and storytelling, I finally broke through with GoldieBlox — the first construction toy that comes with a storybook, aiming to introduce engineering concepts to girls. Girls follow Goldie through a series of adventures, where she is tasked to build simple machines to overcome obstacles. Building alongside Goldie, they learn engineering concepts and develop spatial skills along the way.

My biggest challenge was getting the toy industry to believe in my vision for GoldieBlox. When I first introduced the idea at the New York Toy Fair, I was told, “Construction toys for girls don’t sell.” Undeterred, I chose to crowdfund GoldieBlox on Kickstarter and was able to find a group of supporters who really believed in the mission. In 30 days, over 5,000 supporters had contributed more than $285,000 — enough funding to start the first round of production and prove there is market demand for this product. With much determination and many late nights, GoldieBlox went from Kickstarter to Toys“R”Us in less than a year. And we’re not stopping there — this year, we’re expanding the toy line beyond book and construction sets to include digital products, apps and toys for older age groups.

It’s so important for more women to understand exactly what engineering is, and how exciting and creative it can be. We need more women to contribute to the field and bring with them a new perspective to projects. My advice to any woman who wants to become an engineer is: Go for it, persevere, and tell all of your friends and family about your journey.

My engineering education was incredibly challenging, but all the more rewarding because of it. It isn’t easy to be a woman in a male-dominated field, but we’ll only reach gender equality by inspiring others with our stories and refocusing our attention to all the creativity women have to offer. This is why I created Goldie, a character that I envision to one day be a mainstream, household name that will encourage and empower girls across the world to get building.

Debbie Sterling is Founder and CEO of GoldieBlox.

 

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