The notion that little girls only play with dolls and boys with building bricks and trains is now thoroughly outmoded.
And yet when you go shopping for clothes, toys, even dummies for your little ones, the experience is often still a shockingly segregated pink and blue aisle affair.
But while most parents these days are highly unlikely to stick exclusively to the ‘gender specific toy rules’, many of us are still guilty of reaching instinctively for a Barbie or a football without thinking too much about it.
Have you ever stopped to wonder though whether the type of toys you let your kids play with could actually have a massive impact on their future path? Or, more worryingly, serve to limit their horizons rather than the belief that they can be whatever they choose to.
Well one woman who has made it her mission to ‘disrupt the pink aisle’ as she puts it is American toy designer and innovator Debbie Sterling.
In the space of less than three years the 31-year-old, who hails from the San Francisco Bay area, has realised her ‘mission’ of conceiving, creating and launching an interactive range of construction toys so successful that it could just bridge the gender gap in the traditionally male-dominated fields of engineering, maths, science and technology.
GoldieBlox, debuted on crowd funding website Kickstarter – which seeks to bankroll creative projects – in the autumn of 2012 and by the end of that year had taken a whopping $1 million in pre-orders.
Having started out making prototype toys out of wood and clay, school project style, by herself in her apartment, Debbie now employs a team of 25 writers, designers and marketing whizzes who have helped transform the ‘kernel of her vision’ into a huge global brand.
GoldieBlox counts Desperate Housewife star Felicity Huffman and actress and Sarah Michelle Gellar among its famous fans, and having had a huge British response from the start is set to launch on a large scale across the pond here in September, before tackling the Australian market – and then ‘every country in the world’, Debbie hopes.
An engineering graduate from the prestigious Stanford University, Debbie’s inspiration for GoldieBlox came directly from her own experiences in the industry and her shock at discovering that women account for only 13 per cent of those working within the sector.
“I’d describe myself as having had a very typical upbringing,” Debbie says. “My little sister and I played with all the stereotypical pink, princess toys for girls. It just didn’t occur to my parents to introduce us to things like construction games and toys.
“I never even considered engineering. It was actually my high school maths teacher who gave me the idea that it could be the career path for me.
“But at Stanford I was one of very few women on my degree course – often one of two or three girls in a class of 80 men, surrounded by all male professors. I’d never really feel part of a discussion group and often felt my ideas were ignored.
“I’d go so far to say that it was almost an intimidating environment in which to be a girl. You could feel embarrassed or humiliated for trying to push yourself forward and the general feeling was that girls weren’t as capable.
“Put it this way, if I had my time over again I’d definitely speak up more!”
Debbie, who is happily married and planning a family herself in the not too distant future, explains that it was this background combined with a conversation with a friend and fellow female engineering graduate that inspired her to launch GoldieBlox.
“My friend had been the only girl in her house, so had played with her brother’s construction toys while she was growing up,” Debbie recalls.
“We discussed what would happen if more girls were encouraged to play with so-called ‘boys’ toys’ – would it mean that more became interested in engineering. That debate really hit close to home.
“I started to think about how much girls have to offer in a traditionally male field like engineering and what I could do to promote this. That’s how I dreamed up the toy range, something that could possibly change the status quo in my own lifetime. I really felt like it was something I’d been born to do!”
Debbie started doing her own research into girls and their play patterns and stumbled across a fascinating age marker.
“It turns out that four is a hugely pivotal point for children in terms of them starting to define with their gender,” she reveals. “But while boys play with trains and action men girls get inundated with the whole ‘princess message.’ So my hope is that GoldieBlox can help change the conversation.
“I want to get little girls interested in moving into different employment areas and gaining 21st Century skills – after all they represent the future of our economy. Why should it still be seen as ‘weird’ for girls to become plumbers for example?”
The design secret to the Debbie’s GoldieBlox range, as she explains, is that it’s all been built around storytelling and the fact that, much more so than boys, girls question why they are doing something.
“The character of Goldie has overalls and a tool belt,” she says.
“She’s not a princess or a pop star and she doesn’t care about what she wears but rather what she can do and that really appeals to our customers.
“Just as they are she is very curious about the world, willing to try things and if she fails she tries again. The only thing she’s not is a beauty queen.
“One thing I’m really proud about is that our range seems to be pioneering because it’s thrown up new ways of thinking about children’s toys. The excitement it’s generated shows that both our young customers and their parents want more options out there.
“When I look back now I have to laugh because when I first tried to get a job in the engineering field people would only consider me as an admin assistant. But hopefully now for girls the sky will be the limit.”
GoldieBlox is now available in selected John Lewis stores and on Amazon.