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Can a toy company inspire girls to become engineers?

Could changing the way we think about toys for young girls be the key to inspiring more women to pursue engineering jobs?

That’s the idea behind GoldieBlox, a toy company designed “to get girls building.” The company’s founder and CEO, Debbie Sterling, is a Stanford grad who grew frustrated with how few women were in her Mechanical Engineering/Product Design program.

Last year, Sterling launched a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $285,000 for GoldieBlox. In a video introducing the campaign, Sterling summed up her mission: “I’m starting a toy company called GoldieBlox to get little girls to love engineering as much as I do.”

Videos have continued to be an effective marketing (and messaging) strategy for GoldieBox. The latest one may make you re-think the gifts you’ll buy this holiday for your daughter, niece or little sister.

The video features three little girls who remix their toys into a Rube Goldberg-style contraption, all set to an age-appropriate parody of the Beastie Boys song “Girls.” It’s been viewed more than 6 million times on YouTube and is one of our finalists in a contest to win a coveted spot in the Superbowl ad lineup. Chelsea Clinton lauded it on Twitter.

report by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee last year, said women account for just 14 percent of U.S. engineers. That same report noted that black and non-black Hispanic workers were underrepresented across STEM fields, each group accounting for just six percent of workers in STEM jobs.

It’s worth noting that the video features a multiracial cast — as does GoldieBlox’s line of toys. Last year, the company introduced a black character, Ruby Rails, to praise from customers. “Please keep up the racial diversity,” one wrote. “My girls are mixed and while they love Goldie, having a character that looks more like them is even more inspiring!”

GoldieBlox toys are sold at Toys R Us and are one of the top-sellers at Amazon, thanks to the company’s viral video success. The YouTube video description for a another popular GoldieBlox video highlights some of the company’s initial challenges in bringing its products to a larger audience.

Being in Toys R Us is our first step towards proving to the world that engineering for girls is a mainstream concept. We are faced with an enormous opportunity and challenge: we must prove that GoldieBlox deserves to be on the shelves.  The odds are against us. We’ve been told that GoldieBlox can’t survive in mass stores next to Barbie. Convention says that engineering toys for girls are a “niche” for the affluent, and for the internet. Together, we must prove convention wrong.

Convention comes up often in online discussions on GoldieBlox videos. “As a father of two girls, this is my favorite spot this year,” one viewer wrote.” Even though my wife and I have bought them their fair share of princess-themed toys, I’m still secretly rooting for them to build something like this. Wow…”

“I agree that toys targeted at girls are more stereotyped than toys targeted at boys. It’s a shame,” wrote one YouTube user. “But, they do that for a reason. Toy companies produce products they feel will make a profit.”

Others have taken issue with the fact that some of GoldieBlox’s products are pink, a gripe that the company addresses head on in a FAQ on its Web site: “We believe girls are MORE than just princesses – we’re not saying they should stop dressing up as them. We’d just prefer to see a tool belt thrown in with some tulle.”

For their part, princesses aren’t lacking in the popularity department. Barbie isn’t doing so bad either. But as Forbes noted last year, Sterling isn’t alone in her quest to inspire girls through toys.  One example is Roominate, a line of dollhouses designed by a duo of female engineers educated at Stanford, MIT and Caltech.  These aren’t your mother’s dollhouses — they come with working circuits.

In a TedXTalk at Pennsylvania State University in August, Sterling called her field “a boy’s club” and admitted that she doesn’t fit in.

“I don’t fit in,” she continued, “but I believe that our little girls will.”

Bethonie Butler works for The Post’s social and engagement team. She has also written for The Post’s Food and Local Living sections and has contributed to The Style Blog.

Related:

On Leadership: The brains behind the viral GoldieBlox video

She The People: The tech industry is a ‘boy’s club.’ Here’s why you should work in it anyway

 

Bethonie Butler writes about television for The Post.

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