Goldieblox Creator Debbie Sterling & Her Campaign For Female Engineers

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If you are looking for a compelling reason why the number of women in STEM (science, tech, engineering and math) industries needs to increase, GoldieBlox creator Debbie Sterling has it down pat. She created a range of toys that encourage young girls to cultivate problem-solving skills from an early age, and enjoy math.

In a TEDx Talk given in 2013, Debbie outlines some of the major problems with female representation in the engineering world, and says the problem is the greatest in the US. In this country, only 11% of the engineering industry is made up of women. Some say it is because women “aren’t wired to like math” but she’s here to tell you that is a bold-faced lie. She cites a city done around the world among boys and girls and found that in the majority of countries, girls outperform boys, but not in the land of the free home of the brave (stereotyped?).

Girls apparently start to lose interest in math and science at age 6, and a lot of that has to do with our culture. In the US, the surrounding culture for girls teaches them about Disney princesses, the pink toy aisle, pink clothing, Kim Kardashian, beauty, fashion, gossip and entertainment that is solely directed at, and cultivated by women. But what if pop culture encouraged women to become decision makers, problem solvers and critical thinkers?

In an interview with the Guardian, Debbie says she is on a mission to change the perception of women and to start at the crucial age where things start to change for girls. Hence, GoldieBlox was created.

“The reason why I went into this in the first place is because I studied engineering at Stanford and there were very few women in my program. I was talking with a friend one day, who also studied engineering with me, and she attributed her interest in the field by playing with construction toys as a little girl,” she said.

“I never played with construction toys because I always thought they were boy’s toys. I fell into engineering almost by accident really, I had a maths teacher in high school who encouraged me to give it a try, but had she not nudged me I would never have considered it. I started to think that maybe the fact that in our culture girls play with dolls and boys play with building sets is one of the reasons why so few women enter into the field of engineering.”

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Her goal with GoldieBlox is to create a significant product that sparks their interest in engineering in a way that she never really had. Her product is a book and boy series featuring the lead character Goldie, who goes on adventures and has to solve problems along the way by building machines.

Her idea was genius, parents loved it and responded extremely well to her Kickstarter campaign, but she had a major roadblock ahead of her.

“The toy industry, however, didn’t agree at first. Everyone I spoke to told me even though it was a noble cause it would never go mainstream and it wouldn’t sell because boys like building and girls like dolls – and that you can’t fight nature. Getting over that conventional wisdom was a huge barrier at first and still continues to be a barrier.”

One of the main things that would help, she says, is a “rebranding” of the engineering industry in America. Engineering, math and science are still very male-dominated, but the more prominent women are highlighted, the more impact it will have. If more females in STEM were taught in history class, if more of these women were promoted in magazines and media (such as Elizabeth Holmes who at 30, became the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire by inventing a blood testing device called Theranos that will save patients hundreds of dollars) the more young girls will become interested in what a career in engineering can hold for them.

“There is research based upon how children imagine scientists to be: boys and girls are asked to draw a picture of what a scientist looks like, and commonly draw a white man with white hair and a lab coat. This is the image we have in our heads of what a scientist and engineer look like. When you grow up with that in your subconscious it is a hurdle you need to get over. Both boys and girls need to get over that in order to see the field as relevant and accessible to them.”

She counts Steve Jobs, and Maxine Clark, founder of Build-A-Bear and fellow female toy mogul, as her role models, and also hopes she will be somewhat of the same as she ignites imaginations and opens up opportunities for the next generation of female engineers.

Take a look at her inspiring TEDx Talk below and hear more about why the engineering field is one of the fastest growing and more important industries in the world: