These Three Toys Could Change The Way Girls Think About Science

LEGO’s new Research Institute with three female scientist figures CREDIT: LEGO
LEGO’s new Research Institute with three female scientist figures CREDIT: LEGO

First LEGO released Professor C. Bodin, a Nobrick Prize winner and the first female scientist minifigure in September. Now kids looking to play with female scientists will have even more options after the company released the Research Institute kit with three new women scientists.

The package contains a paleontologist with her magnifying glass and a dinosaur skeleton, an astronomer with a telescope, and a chemist with beakers and a lab. The set was created by geologist Ellen Kooijman and was picked as part of its 2014 Winter Review of Lego Ideas, submissions from outside the company for new product ideas.

The Bodin figure represented the first-ever female scientist in LEGO’s 81 years of operation, and the Research Institute is the first set of female scientists for the company. Over that time, there have been approximately four male minifigures for every woman, and the company has come under fire for focusing on marketing to boys.

In 2012, LEGO released LEGO Friends, a line that it said were tailored specifically for girls. But critics pointed out at the time that the figures looked different than other LEGO toys and were somewhat pinkwashed. The new scientists, instead, look like other figures and aren’t covered in pink and purple.

Female scientist toys may not sound particularly meaningful, but they help combat some of the subtle ways that society signals to girls that they shouldn’t get interested in the STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — fields. Studies have shown that if parents enforce gender stereotypes in relation to these subjects, their daughters will lack confidence.

Some overcome or escape the stereotypes, and women represent about 40 percent of STEM graduates. But they face other challenges in trying to pursue careers outside of school. Prospective employers are twice as likely to hire a man over a woman for a math job based strictly on gender. Once they do get a job, women are 45 percent more likely than men to call it quits after their first year in STEM, possibly due to gender bias and also because it can be hard to balance these demanding jobs and the demands of children at home. The attrition means that women with STEM degrees are much more likely to end up with jobs outside the field. And those women who do stick it out and stay in STEM can expect to make less — the average woman in the field makes $75,100 a year, while a man makes $91,000.

New LEGO figures can’t fix all of those problems. But they could get some girls hooked on science who might have otherwise thought they shouldn’t be interested.