Toys Enjoyed in Childhood Lead Women to a Career in STEM

What was your dream job when you were growing up? Apparently, many of us took inspiration from the toys we played with, and these toys shaped out future. A favourite jigsaw that couldn’t be put down or a board game that was constantly played could have had a much stronger influence on a current career path than anyone may have previously thought.

To coincide with International Women’s Day and in the spirit of inspiring young girls to follow their dreams, Wicked Uncle the internet toy retailer wondered whether the toys they had played with had influenced women to work in STEM – and their research with the help of YouGov may surprise you.

Bar graph of favoured toys by women in STEM during their childhood

Wicked Uncle has a small but agile female-led marketing team who are constantly looking at searcher behaviour before and after the purchase. The team got talking about research topics and, of course, their favourite childhood toys.  Noticing some synergies, they decided to research whether other women in STEM had been influenced by childhood toys.

An initial Google survey circulated on Twitter and shared by Neil Gaiman, revealed that Women in STEM on Twitter who follow the author self-reported playing with Lego most as children and that it inspired them. As a creative toy it was unsurprising to see so many women in STEM self-reported playing with Lego, but a number also replied playing with computers and chemistry sets inspired them. In fact, there was a range of self-reported things that were played with and inspired women in to a STEM education or career, but was there a pattern?

To find out, Wicked Uncle worked with YouGov to survey over 4,000 GB adults, with 2,162 being women and, specifically, 992 being women either working in STEM, or educated in a STEM field. 80% of all women said that they enjoyed playing with board games as a child. Games such as Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble are heavily focused on being one step ahead of the other players. Being able to think clearly and manage many different components of a board game are difficult to learn as a child, but incredibly helpful for future learning.

The second most popular toys discovered by the YouGov survey were wooden toys and jigsaw puzzles. 65% of women said they enjoyed playing with these types of toys when they were children. Wooden toys and jigsaws require logical thinking and patience, with the main focus on problem solving. There are many STEM careers that benefit from these types of skills, such as an engineer or a surgeon.

Surprisingly, science sets were at the bottom of the list! Just 23% of women said they played with and enjoyed STEM related sets such as chemistry labs, science kits and solar system sets. This was different from the initial self-reported findings and show that perhaps Neil Gaiman on Twitter attracts women in STEM who have similar likes and interests.

It’s clear that not all toys have to be about learning. More women had plushies and baby dolls than science sets, making them the third most enjoyed toys by women (64%). This selection was followed by action figures and fashion dolls such as Barbie and Action Man, with 51% of women saying these were enjoyed when they were younger. Being in tune with your logical and deep-thinking side is key to be able to excel in a career in STEM. But these types of toys can help learn about compassion and caring about others, which is just as important. Sometimes, this can be a reason people choose a career path in cancer research or medicine.

Mike O’Shea from Wicked Uncle said: “The women that broke into the male dominated industry of STEM are an inspiration to young girls everywhere, and in the spirit of International Women’s Day, we wanted to celebrate that. Toys play a huge role in shaping a child’s skill set, helping them to learn more about what they’re interested in. It is great to see that these toys had such an impact on these women when they were younger. It’s interesting to see how these toys influence our future careers, and we hope to see young girls everywhere picking up a new toy this year, that will hopefully inspire them to follow their dreams and achieve great things.”

If you can’t see it, just be it!

Too often women say they struggle to find relevant role models in tech.

Rather than moaning about there not being enough role models we need to pull our socks up and start becoming the role models for the next generation.

Ladies rather than looking for others to step up and become your role models, step up and take the mantle.

  • Be the role models
  • Share your stories
  • Support those coming into the industry
  • Mentor & advocate
  • Start shaping the industry
  • Make the rules
  • Share the triumphs and the failures
  • Be honest, open and inspirational
  • Be visible

If you are stuck on how you can do any of these. A quick Google search will tell you all about mentoring opportunities. There are loads of projects calling for inspirational stories of women working in tech. There are opportunities to network locally make yourself known to schools, other networks etc. Even within your own organisation… Share those stories you find and share your own!

Challenge the salary differences, stand up to being marginalized. Don’t take the past as a representation of how it will be in the future (that’s called conforming to stereotypes and stereotypes have a nasty way of self perpetuating unless they are challenged). Don’t accept poor excuses and bad manners. And this doesn’t just mean ladies have to do it all!

Men you too need to step up here. Male advocates for women in tech are in short supply. You too can support women in tech by doing all of the above and challenge those that stand in their way and yours! This is your industry too! Take some responsibility and ownership too, help shape it into an industry we can all be proud of! Here are a few tips on how you could do that.

This sector needs fundamental changes which means people need to believe this industry can and will change. Without these changes we limit the future of technology itself. No one wants that.

Let’s show the other industries that change can happen and fast. After all technology changes so rapidly why shouldn’t people…

We are Girl Geek Dinners but more importantly we are a voice for change.