06 December 2016
The IET warns that stereotyped Christmas gift lists may be turning young girls off technology and engineering
The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is making a stand on the outdated stereotypes which could be discouraging girls from a career in engineering and technology.
The organisation carried out research* into the leading search engines and toy retailers which found that boys are almost three times more likely to receive a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) toy this Christmas than girls. Of all STEM toys offered, 31% were listed for boys compared to only 11% for girls.
The IET stresses that the societal stereotypes driving these gendered listings could be having a knock on effect for the next generation of engineers, especially girls, impacting their future career choices. Whilst the onus is on the parents to think outside the pink and blue boxes when shopping for their children, toy retailers and search engines also have a responsibility not to perpetuate gender stereotypes. Search engines in particular could look at introducing ways of detecting patterns of gender bias.
Results from the leading search engines and toy retailers using the search terms ‘boys toys’ and ‘girls toys’ also reveal that 89% of toys listed for girls are pink, compared to 1% for boys. Google, Yahoo, Bing and Amazon stand out as the main culprits for the high numbers of pink toys listed when ‘girls toys’ was used as a search term.
The latest figures from the IET’s 2016 Skills and Demand in Industry survey show that women account for just 9% of engineers in the UK, yet other research conducted with parents and children by the IET found that 39 percent of primary school aged girls state that they enjoy ICT and Computing, with a further 38 per cent saying they enjoy Maths and 36 per cent Science.
Furthermore, parents play a crucial role in influencing their children’s school subjects and career choices. The IET’s research found that only 7 per cent of parents think that engineering as a career choice would appeal to their daughter.
Mamta Singhal, toy engineer and IET spokesperson, said: “The research shows girls clearly do have an interest in science, technology and engineering subjects at school so we need to find ways to help this to translate into a higher number of women entering the industry. The marketing of toys for girls is a great place to start to change perceptions of the opportunities within engineering. The toy options for girls should go beyond dolls and dress up so we can cultivate their enthusiasm and inspire them to grow up to become engineers.
“As a child I had traditional ‘girls’ toys’ but I loved playing with cars, building blocks and creative kits, too. The toy industry is changing slowly and over the years more gender neutral toys such as science kits have started appearing. Toys can really influence what a child does in later years; therefore STEM toys are a natural move for the industry.”
Jess Day from Let Toys Be Toys - a campaign encouraging retailers to stop categorising toys by gender - said: "Play is crucial to how children develop and learn, and children should feel free to enjoy a wide range of play. But all too often toy marketing pushes the idea of separate toys for girls and boys. Many retailers have made real progress over the last few years, dropping gender labels in stores and online - our new research shows a 70% decrease in the use of online gender navigation options since 2012 - but there's still work to do to challenge the stereotyped ways that toys are often packaged and promoted.
"We previously asked women engineers and scientists about the toys they played with as children and the most interesting finding was, not that they all played with construction or science toys, but they didn't recall being aware of a distinction between girls and boys toys at all. It's not just the toys which are the issue, but the whole idea that some things are just for boys or girls. If children learn that early, it’s hardly surprising that they go on to apply this logic to their career choices, too.”
Simon Ragoonanan, founder of Manvspink.com, commented: “As a father to a 4 year old daughter who loves sci-fi and superheroes, I feel strongly that little girls should aspire to be more than just princesses and that all toys are gender neutral.
“I recently published an alternative Christmas gift guide for girls which includes products like build-your-own computer kits and LEGO to inspire people to be more imaginative when buying gifts for children. People often opt for what they think is a safe option which is how gender stereotypes come into play.”
The IET recently launched social media campaign #9PercentIsNotEnough as part of its Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards. Celebrating women in modern engineering, the campaign encourages engineers to share a picture with their hand raised to the fact that only 9% of women make up the UK’s engineering and technology workforce. The aim is to banish outdated engineering stereotypes of hard hats and greasy pipes and promote engineering as a realistic and inspiring career for girls.
*The IET’s research analysed a total of 360 toys and images across the top ten toy retailer websites, as well as 594 search engine results from the leading websites, including Google, Bing and Yahoo. For search engines, the research measured the number of pink toys, STEM toys and dolls that were listed when ‘boys toys’ and ‘girls toys’ were entered as a search term. For toy retailers, the research focussed on the number of pink toys, STEM toys and dolls that were labelled for either girls or boys.