This weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to chat with the founder and CEO of Goldie Blox, Debbie Sterling, about whether or not she designed her product for my daughter personally. I mean, as I've mentioned before, engineering is my little girl's thing. I've been begging for people to help build strong role models for my little girl. This sounds like it was made for us, right?
Well, it turns out that the toy wasn't made just for my family, but it was made with little girls like mine in mind. In fact, Sterling herself was once a girl like mine, who just never even though to pick up the blue-skewed toys in the boys' aisle. While there's nothing saying that girls can't pick up traditional LEGOs or K'nex sets, there is an intimidation factor. It's an issue that girls encounter in advanced math classes and even into the business world. Sterling explains, "I definitely thought of physics and math and engineering, I thought of those as things for boys. It's just a cultural thing. Bill Nye the Science Guy, those types of characters are male. It's intimidating for women to throw themselves into a male-dominated fields. Women feel the pressure to out-perform men in order to make the cut. Even at Standford, they looked at me like 'Really?' I always felt like you need to be a born genius in math to make it, growing up and all through college. Even now in Silicon Valley, there's this elite group of engineers and it's a very male-dominated club. There's a constant reminder of why I'm making Goldie Blox."
So, if the goal was to make the field of engineering a little more diverse, why didn't Sterling create a gender-neutral toy that would interest boys without intimidating girls? Why go for the pink girl toy? Debbie told me, "I think what originally inspired me is because I saw such a gap in the toy aisle for something that spoke to girls. I think over time I definitely want to grow Goldie Blox into a gender-neutral brand. I think that even with the first toy, boys will like it too. But I wanted to do something just for girls to start because I think there are lots parents that wouldn't think to buy a gender-neutral toy for their girls."
The sales of another girl-themed building toy probably prove that Sterling's instincts there are correct. Much to the chagrin of feminists everywhere, including feminist mothers like me, LEGO Friends are doing extremely well. That probably has to do with the fact that they are specifically marketed towards girls. I had to wonder how Goldie Blox was planning differentiating themselves from the fast-growing toy. "I think that it's quite different in a lot of ways," Sterling told me. "We incorporate storytelling in a literal way. We're building up a role model who is an engineer. Her friends are kind of 'Geek Chic' girls. Cool, nerdy girls. We really focused on positive, strong female role models. I think that the cast of LEGO characters are really more of what you've seen before."
The characters involved aren't the only difference though. Aside from the storylines, there's another key difference. "The product itself, LEGO is bricks, we're machine-based. We use a lot of quirky humor. I don't think of LEGO as funny. The humor aspect is important. It lowers the intimidation factor. It makes it silly and fun."
As one of commenters pointed out before, Goldie Blox really seems to be saying the things parents want to hear. Obviously, I'm thrilled about a toy that my daughter doesn't even know exists yet. So is Goldie Blox just being marketed towards adults? "That's the initial push with the Kickstarter," Debbie agrees. "We want the toy to appeal to parents and kids. In terms of marketing because we're a small, independent toy company, Kickstarter was just the obvious route. Marketing to kids is expensive and it's just a completely different. That being said, it's really important for kids to enjoy playing with it, not parents to be shoving it down their throat."
The plan to start with Kickstarter seems to be working. When I talked to Debbie over the weekend, they were about $5000 away from from their goal of $150,000. As of right now, they've raised upwards of $165,000. But I did ask what the women behind Goldie Blox would be doing once they reached their initial mark. "We'll crack open the champagne and then we re-set the goal. The goal isn't about the number of units, it's the number of girls that we reach. We have new books, new things that she builds, new characters. Goldie will get to build a circuit board and learn to code."
It's an ambitious plan, but that's what we need if we're really going to change the gender dynamic in fields like engineering. Debbie Sterling wants to change the gender dynamics when it comes to toys. She's addressing a problem that moms everywhere have been lamenting for a while now. And personally, I'm excited to see someone leading the way and creating toys that I'll be happy to see my little girl obsessing over.