Her name’s GoldieBlox and she’s a female engineer with blonde curls who encourages girls aged four to nine to build a spinning machine toy, engaging their spatial and scientific skills.
It’s exciting news given that science, technology, engineering and maths, known as STEM disciplines, apparently aren’t high on the priority list for most girls. A recent national study showed that just 6.6 per cent of girls chose to study advanced maths for their HSC in 2013. In New South Wales just 1.5 per cent of girls study the trio of advanced maths, physics and chemistry. And in 2011 national body Engineers Australia reported that just 31,088 or 12 per cent of the nation’s working engineers were female.
However these sobering facts should hardly come as a surprise. Just look at the heaving pink aisles of most stores, and you’ll see how few toys there are to challenge young girls’ minds beyond traditional ideals. As one of the few female students in her engineering degree at Stanford University, San Francisco- based GoldieBlox creator Debbie Sterling had a light bulb moment two years ago.
“One day I was complaining to a girlfriend of mine who’s also an engineer, about the lack of women in our field,” explains the 31-year-old.
“I’d stumbled into engineering by accident only after a high school maths teacher suggested I study it at college. However my friend said she’d always wanted to be an engineer because she loved tinkering with her brothers’ construction toys. Whereas my sister and I just had dolls, plastic ponies and stuffed animals. I went to a toy store the next day and saw a lot of girl stuff themed around tea parties, princesses and decorating whilst the boys’ aisle was filled with complex building, maths and science sets. At that moment I became obsessed with creating a toy that would introduce those concepts to girls from a young age.”
Debbie spent a year researching and discovered that girls love stories and characters. So she developed GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine. With the help of a story book, girls use the construction kit to create a spinning machine to help Goldie’s friends, such as Katinka the dolphin ballerina to pirouette. The response from the beginning was overwhelming. Debbie crowd funded the product in 2012 through Kickstarter raising around $300,000. In just a few months her company sold more than $1million in GoldieBlox sets online before they’d even begun production.
“Once it was ready, people all over the world including Australia were paying $100 to have us ship them a $30 toy from the States,” says Debbie. “I knew we were onto something.”
Debbie says last Christmas, GoldieBlox, which recently launched in Australia by U. Games Australia, was the best-selling toy on Amazon.com. “Creating an interesting story has really been the key to us being successful and getting girls interested,” she adds.
However despite this undeniable success, puzzlingly there are still very few girls’ toys around of a similar ilk. “It still feels like we’re a pioneer of a generation of girl empowerment toys,” says Debbie.
“Lego have a girls’ block line and we’re already being compared to them so that’s pretty incredible.”
The young inventor, who also offers other GoldieBlox machine kits including a parade float and dunk tank (available in Australia later this year), says she would relish seeing more products in the marketplace which could help create a shift in education and attitude.
It’s a passion shared by 2012 Young Australian of the Year Marita Cheng who set up her Robogals initiative in 2008. So far they have delivered workshops on robotics to 3000 girls in the hope of encouraging more girls to choose STEM subjects and engineering as a career.
“The fastest growing jobs around the world are in engineering and technology which are driving our world economy,” says Debbie. “And they are not only important because they’re increasingly more abundant, they contribute to progress and making the world a better place. The reason why it’s so important to engage concepts at such a young age is that as young as four children start to identify with what is appropriate for their gender. We want to let girls know that you can still be into girly stuff whilst also being into building and inventing too. Unfortunately by the time girls are around 10 they’re only half as likely as boys to be interested [in STEM topics] so I don’t think you can get them interested early enough.”
GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine is available from Myer, Toys R Us, Australian Geographic, Target, Toyworld, Kidstuff, toys2go.com.au and all good toy retailers. For more information visit www.goldieblox.ugames.com.au
Article compiled with the help of Fleur Michell