Pushing Past Pink
When Debbie Sterling was an engineering student at Stanford University something bothered her—there were too few women in her program.
In the U.S., less than 20% of bachelor's degrees in engineering are earned by women, and the percentage of practicing engineers who are women is roughly 13%, according to the most recent statistics from the National Science Foundation. Interestingly—and Sterling would believe not coincidently—a quick online search shows that of all the building toys available on Toys R Us' Web site, the percentage for girls is also roughly 13%. Sensing an opportunity, she has designed a toy for girls that develops spatial skills and interest in engineering and science.
It all began two years ago, when Sterling, who lives in San Francisco, was inspired by a friend. "[My friend] started complaining about the lack of women in engineering and talking about how she grew up with three older brothers and played with their LEGOs and how the LEGOs had made her interested in it and wouldn't it be great if there were LEGOs for girls to get girls interested in engineering too," Sterling recounts. "It was as if I'd been struck by lightning, just oh my God. I thought, this is it, this is what I am supposed to do with my life."
The fact is, though, that while there are very few LEGOs and other building toys for girls, they do exist. But even then, there is a serious problem, according to Sterling. Often, those toys are the same as those designed for boys, just colored pink.
"When Nike decided to make shoes and clothing for women they first started taking the men's clothing and making it pink, and that really doesn't work for women," Sterling says. "[So] they spent months researching the female body and psyche and began trying to understand what women need out of athletic apparel. Eventually they went beyond pink to this deeper understanding of women, and I am doing the same thing."
The result of Sterling's research into the psychology and needs of girls is GoldieBlox, which combines a building set with a series of books. Providing narratives, in which girls are asked to help girl inventor Goldie build amazing contraptions, gives them a reason to build, which boys don't typically need.
After failing to get toy companies behind GoldieBlox, Sterling started a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter in September. In less than one week, she reached her goal of $150,000 to begin manufacturing GoldieBlox. "I can't tell you how many toy industry people I talked to who said that construction toys for girls are never going to sell," Sterling says. "I would love to prove them wrong."
Preorders for GoldieBlox are now being taken at www.goldieblox.com. Also, another toy, Roominate, designed by women engineers to get girls interested in engineering is now taking preorders as well. Visit www.roominatetoy.com for more information.