Girls can be more than princesses, they can be engineers!
Females are a minority within the engineering industry. The UK has the lowest percentage of females in engineering jobs within Europe, with only 7% of engineers being female. The study of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects has decreased, meaning a decline in young people entering engineering jobs, especially girls. This is a major threat to the industry, a female perspective is vital. Females have high empathy skills, meaning they understand wants and needs and can design products with people in mind. So with these vital skills, why are young girls not pursuing engineering careers?
Last year the results of a global study testing science ability in schools showed that 15-year old girls exceeded boys, everywhere other than the United States, Great Britain and Canada. This is not an ability problem, it is cultural! Is our culture preventing girls from reaching their potential in the sciences?
Richard Gottlieb, CEO of Global Toy Experts, explains that “wanting to be a doctor or architect or cook, that really begins when you’re young and walking around with a stethoscope or playing with an Easy Bake oven.” This issue stems from early development where children learn skills by playing with toys. Engineering skills are introduced to children through building and designing; elements which are traditionally incorporated in to “boy’s toys” and banned from the pink aisle – leaving girls with little aspiration to pursue engineering careers!
This was until the creation of GoldieBlox, an innovation in girl’s toys created by Debbie Sterling. Debbie was first introduced to engineering when her maths tutor suggested it as a college option. However like most people, Debbie had no idea what engineering was! Her initial thoughts were “eww no way! Engineering is for boys!”, however the advice had stuck in her head and she couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe she ought to give it a go. After taking the class she discovered that:
”Engineering is really the skill set to build anything you dream up in your head.”
So, after finishing her engineering degree and working for various companies including Microsoft and T-Mobile, Debbie realised she had the ability to challenge the gender gap. During her degree Debbie encountered a number of problems due to being a female in what is essentially a “boys club”, but she wasn’t prepared to sit back and accept this. Debbie thought “I’m an engineer now, I have a degree, I can make anything I want now, and I’m going to make an engineering toy for girls.”
This resulted in the creation of GoldieBlox! A toy company that designs engineering toys specifically for girls. Rather than taking a boys toy and making it pink, Debbie spent years researching gender cognitive development, identifying that girls have strong communication and reading skills. She used this information to make toys that teach girls in a way that makes sense to them. Girls can read the story and solve problems along the way with the help of the main character GoldieBlox, the girl inventor.
The toys include a book that tells a story with problems that need to be solved and the parts to design and build the machinery needed to fix the problem. In one adventure the reader has to build a spinning machine to help GoldieBlox’s dog, Nacho, chase his tail using simple engineering.
Debbie has invested in the development of female engineers in the hope that inspiring a new generation will create “women who will design a more empathetic and compassionate world.”
The good news is that changes are happening. There has been a 46% increase in girls taking GCSE physics and a £400 million investment from Government and Universities aims to encourage females into engineering, with a prediction that 30% of engineering degrees will be taken by females in 2030. The UK needs to double the amount of recruits into engineering in order to meet demand– the time to encourage females into engineering is now!
At present women are a minority within engineering, but future generations don’t have to be. Teachers and parents play a crucial role in encouraging girls into the sciences. It only took one suggestion for Debbie to become curious about engineering – a career with unlimited prospects which is taking positive steps in resolving the gender gap.
To get children involved we need to interest them in STEM subjects. The Big Bang and MerseySTEM have teamed up to create The Big Bang North West where STEM will come alive! From fashion to physics, games to planes through activities, competitions and shows! Visit http://nearme.thebigbangfair.co.uk/North_West/ to register and find more information on The Big Bang and MerseySTEM.
Being a princess is a dream, becoming an engineer can be a reality!
Sophie Dawson 507806
Images: Susan Burdick Photography (2013) and The Big Bang (2014)