For those who watched the 89th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, you may have noticed a new, blonde, school-age girl with a passion for math floating down 34th Street. Her name is GoldieBlox, and she has brought a new twist to the predominantly pink girl’s toy aisle. GoldieBlox toys, projects, books, videos and phone apps encourage problem solving in a way that was previously exclusive to boy’s toys.
Debbie Sterling, 30, is a Lincoln, RI native and the CEO of GoldieBlox, Inc. Debbie was disappointed by the lack of women in her chemical engineering classes while attending Stanford University. This prompted Debbie to consider why there are so few women pursuing careers in engineering. As you can see in the pie-chart below, the engineering industry is made up of 86% men.
Debbie earned her Mechanical Engineering and Product Design degree from Standford in 2005, and worked as a brand consultant for companies all over the country before founding GoldieBlox in 2012. Debbie identifies as a “girly-girl,” but always felt the toys in which she was most interested while growing up were marketed for boys. She came to the conclusion that the male-biased marketing for these design and construction type toys creates an intimidation factor that makes girls feel that in order to succeed at math, physics or engineering they will have to outperform men. She describes her theory in detail during a Ted Talk presentation you can watch here (a very worthwhile watch). Debbie created a video and Kickstarter campaign that was featured on the viral video sharing site, Upworthy.com. Debbie used her marketing experience to time the release of the video with the Kickstarter campaign before the holidays, and the Kickstarter campaign far surpassed its goal, soon filling the shelves with a frizzy blonde in denim overalls, looking to share her love for building and problem solving with other young girls.
When I began working at Pare Corporation, I was impressed by the number of female engineers who work in both our Lincoln, RI and Foxboro, MA offices. Each time I heard about GoldieBlox, whether it was on the Today Show or after making Super Bowl commercial history, as it did last year, I wondered how the female engineers I work with found themselves in this predominantly male career, without the help of Goldie. Were Pare’s engineers natural born math geniuses (as Debbie implied they likely had to be), or did they reach into the boy’s toy aisle as a child?
A few of Pare’s female engineers shared with me their engineering journeys. They were inspired and guided by real life mentors—not a childhood toy. Victoria Howland and Lindsey Machamer, both civil engineers at Pare, grew up with parents in the engineering industry. Victoria had the unique experience of having both her mother and father working as engineers.
Both my parents are engineers, as is my grandpa, and as was my great grandpa (I would have been 4th generation if I went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute!) although they all specialized in a different discipline than me. My mom was one of few women in her 100+ person program, and since then she’s been a hardcore women-in-engineering advocate. I always heard about (and attended a few of) her events, conferences, and engineers week presentations that encouraged women to get into engineering. It was pushed on me so much growing up that I thought, no way, I am NEVER doing that. Then came high school, when I realized math was my thing. It also helped that the math teachers in my school district were, in my personal opinion, the best they come! After a certain point, my parents sat me down and asked, “What do you like the most?” I liked math, buildings, and architecture (I actually wanted to be an architect for a while), and they encouraged me to look into civil engineering. My aunt actually told me about this evolving field called “green engineering,” and as a 14-year-old I thought it was the coolest thing. And here I am today.
Lindsey knew her father was an electrical engineer since she was a young girl, however she didn’t know exactly what that meant.
My dad was an electrical engineer so I sort of always knew what engineering was even if I didn’t fully understand it. In my freshman year of high school (age 14), I asked my physics professor about careers that involved math and physics. He sent me on a field trip geared toward women in engineering. The field trip had different presentations that gave students an overview of all the different types of engineering. It took me a little while after that to nail down what type of engineering I wanted to do, but when I was 14, I knew I wanted to be an engineer.
Cari Orsi, a Senior Project Engineer in Pare’s Civil Division, was introduced to her future career through a high school summer camp.
I first heard about engineering my junior year in high school from a chemistry teacher promoting summer camp for the Pulp and Paper Foundation of Maine at the University of Maine. I applied to the summer camp since I had an interest in math and science. I had thoughts of becoming an architect and thought it would be valuable to get a degree as a structural engineer. During my time at the University of Maine, I had an internship for a site engineering company and realized that I liked the site side of things better than the structural design and I have never looked back.
Amy Archer, a Project Engineer in Pare’s Transportation Division, also discovered engineering while in high school.
I’ve always had a strong interest in designing and building things, and math was always a strength of mine. When I learned that being an engineer would allow me to utilize math to take ideas or concepts and make them come to life, I decided it was definitely the right career path for me.
Back to Debbie and GoldieBlox –
GoldieBlox’s mission states, “In a world where men largely outnumber women in science, technology, engineering and math, girls lose interest in these subjects as early as age 8. Construction toys develop an early interest in these subjects, but for over a hundred years, they’ve been considered ‘boy’s toys.’ GoldieBlox is determined to change the equation. We aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.”
It’s clear that education and hands-on experience played an important role in helping Pare’s female engineers make the decision to pursue engineering. As a writer, I am very aware that math doesn’t come easily to everyone. It is a special skill that is necessary to find solutions for needed improvements in the world. Creating a problem-solving/building/construction experience for young girls opens their minds to pursuing that interest sooner, and these valuable skills should not be wasted.
If you have young girls to shop for this holiday season, consider GoldieBlox! For every dollar spent today, December 1, 2015, each dollar will be matched by GoldieBlox for children in need. For a future blog, I think it would be interesting to see at what age some of Pare’s male engineers became aware of this career path and what influenced their decision. Please feel free to share your experience in our comment section.