How 'boy toys' and 'girl toys' are causing big problems in the tech industry.

The market for jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is one of the fastest growing in the United States.

If you're still wondering why, just look around: Millions of people are carrying small computers in their pockets. We can play the most advanced video games in the world on a device thinner than a pencil. Our watches can track and send our heartbeats to loved ones on the other side of the planet, and every 20-something with a plaid shirt secretly dreams of inventing the next Facebook.

Talking is texting, dating is Tinder-ing, and ordering hangover takeout is an experience joyously free of human contact. Not to mention all the progress and innovations in health and medicine that keep many of us alive longer and longer every day.


But there's a problem in the world of STEM that needs to be fixed.

Despite the fact that women make up more than half of the professional and technical work force in the United States, women are massively underrepresented in STEM careers and have been for decades.

Margaret Hamilton, a software engineer who helped get Apollo XI to the moon. Photo by NASA/Wikimedia Commons.

In 2011, women held less than 25% of STEM jobs. Overall, that's an increase since the 1970s, but in computer occupations, women's representation has actually declined since the 1990s.

So why — specifically — is this a problem?

Well, if underrepresentation of an entire gender in America's fastest growing job market doesn't do it for you, consider this: Lack of diversity and representation isn't just bad for progress, it's bad for business.

Especially in STEM industries which are based on innovative ideas and creative thinking — not having women in the room when designing something meant to be used by people across the gender spectrum is entirely unproductive. When all-male teams create products, they often miss potential solutions because they experience the world differently than women do. When women join those teams, products that had been designed by-men-for-men are adapted and become more useful to the entire population.

All images and data from FatWallet: STEM toys for girls.

It turns out, women get turned away from STEM careers pretty early in life.

Society starts to impose gender roles on kids much earlier than you might think.

"By age 3, children can start articulating gender and racial stereotypes," says Catherine Hill, a researcher at the American Association of University Women (AAUW). "They are learning by what they see, and they are forming stereotypes from the world around them — from parents, teachers, daycare staff."

Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images.

That means that while girls are encouraged to play with Barbies, they are sometimes being told that Legos and other construction toys are "boy toys." Similarly, a boy might smash an old radio to see what's inside and be labeled as "curious" or "a tinkerer" while at times girls are discouraged from such messy and destructive behavior.

All of those little differences in rewarded behavior can steer girls away from their curiosity in engineering, technology, and building instead of nurturing it into an eventual career path.

Worse still, women who do enter the STEM workforce are met with even more discouraging trends.

Yep, you guessed it. There's a STEM wage gap. And a sexual harassment problem.

Image from FatWallet: STEM toys for girls.

The best place to start correcting these patterns is with kids.

Specifically, with all the weirdly gender-specific toys kids are given to play with.

Marina Lee, founder and CEO of the Women in Tech Network, believes parents should encourage their kids to break through those socially constructed barriers when it comes to which toys they play with.

"Let children play with whatever toys they want to play with," Lee says. "Boys don’t just need to play with trucks and building blocks, and girls don’t just need to play with dolls. We need to look at our own unconscious bias as parents and caretakers.”

"Keep your Cabbage Patch Kids. I play with trucks." Photo by John Macdougal/AFP/Getty Images.

The AAUW also recommends several steps for encouraging young girls to explore STEM, which include providing girls with opportunities to tinker and take things apart and introducing them to STEM outside of the school setting. It's also important that boys see that girls can be competent, capable, and interested in STEM through the toys they play with at a young age. Men are often the gatekeepers to job opportunities, so making sure they don't buy into the idea that certain toys (careers) are for them and other toys (careers) are for women is crucial.

Ultimately, this is not just about improving cellphones and seat belts. It's about making the world easier for everyone to live in.

When STEM jobs (and jobs in all fields, really) are more inclusive, the world gets better. More diversity and representation means more innovation and more solutions to problems that people of all genders face.

That means better medicine, better hospitals, and better methods of communication.

When you tell a girl that she shouldn't play with Legos or that she can only play with the pink and purple Lego Friends sets, what you're really telling her is that she shouldn't satisfy her desire to build things. You're telling her that she shouldn't build, shouldn't tinker, shouldn't innovate, and that her gender actively prevents her from being good at those things.

It doesn't take an advanced STEM degree to see that's wrong.

Plus ... Legos are AMAZING.

I LOVE LEGOS. YOU LOVE LEGOS. WHO DOESN'T LOVE LEGOS?!

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Women around the world are constantly bombarded by traditional and outdated societal expectations when it comes to how they live their lives: meet a man, get married, buy a home, have kids.

Many of these pressures often come from within their own families and friend circles, which can be a source of tension and disconnect in their lives.

Global skincare brand SK-II created a new campaign exploring these expectations from the perspective of four women in four different countries whose timelines vary dramatically from what their mothers, grandmothers, or close friends envision for them.

SK-II had Katie Couric meet with these women and their loved ones to discuss the evolving and controversial topic of marriage pressure and societal expectations.

SK-II

"What happens when dreams clash with expectations? We're all supposed to hit certain milestones: a degree, marriage, a family," Couric said before diving into conversation with the "young women who are defining their own lives while navigating the expectations of the ones who love them most."

Maluca, a musician in New York, explains that she comes from an immigrant family, which comes with the expectation that she should live the "American Dream."

"You come here, go to school, you get married, buy a house, have kids," she said.

Her mother, who herself achieved the "American Dream" with hard work and dedication when she came to the United States, wants to see her daughter living a stable life.

"I'd love for her to be married and I'd love her to have a big wedding," she said.

Chun Xia, an award-winning Chinese actress who's outspoken about empowering other young women in China, said people question her marital status regularly.

"I'm always asked, 'Don't you want to get married? Don't you want to start a family and have kids like you should at your age?' But the truth is I really don't want to at this point. I am not ready yet," she said.

In South Korea, Nara, a queer-identifying artist, believes her generation should have a choice in everything they do, but her mother has a different plan in mind.

SK-II

"I just thought she would have a job and meet a man to get married in her early 30s," Nara's mom said.

But Nara hopes she can one day marry her girlfriend, even though it's currently illegal in her country.

Her mother, however, still envisions a different life for her daughter. "Deep in my heart, I hope she will change her mind one day," she said.

Maina, a 27-year-old Japanese woman, explains that in her home country, those who aren't married by the time they're 25 to 30, are often referred to as "unsold goods."

Her mom is worried about her daughter not being able to find a boyfriend because she isn't "conventional."

"I really want her to find the right man and get married, to be seen as marriage material," she said.

After interviewing the women and their families, Couric helped them explore a visual representation of their timelines, which showcased the paths each woman sees her life going in contrast with what her relatives envision.

SK-II

"For each young woman, two timelines were created. One represents the expectations. The other, their aspirations," Couric explained. "There's often a disconnect between dreams and expectations. But could seeing the difference lead to greater understanding?"

The women all explored their timelines, which included milestones like having "cute babies," going back to school, not being limited by age, and pursuing dreams.

By seeing their differences side-by-side, the women and their families were able to partake in more open dialogue regarding the expectations they each held.

One of the women's mom's realized her daughter was lucky to be born during a time when she has the freedom to make non-traditional choices.

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"It looks like she was born in the right time to be free and confident in what she wants to do," she said.

"There's a new generation of women writing their own rules, saying, 'we want to do things our way,' and that can be hard," Couric explained.

The video ends with the tagline: "Forge your own path and choose the life you want; Draw your own timeline."

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