As a parent, grandparent, or family friend, could your choice of presents underneath the Christmas tree kill off girls' interest in science, tech, and all things nerdy? With science toys being far more likely to be marketed towards boys, new research suggests it could, to detrimental effect.
The study by the UK Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) found that only 11 percent of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) toys were listed as a girl's toy on search engines and toy retailer websites, compared to 31 percent of STEM toys listed only under "boys".
They also found that 89 percent of toys listed for girls are pink, compared to just 1 percent for boys.
The main concern for the IET is this gender-bias could put girls and young women off maintaining an interest in science and picking it as a career due to lack of encouragement. After all, they found that only 7 percent of parents think that engineering would appeal to their daughter as a future career choice.
The statistics of women currently in STEM jobs appears to follow suit with this idea. The IET’s 2016 Skills and Demand in Industry survey found that only 9 percent of engineers the UK were women. However, other surveys suggested that 39 percent of elementary school-aged girls say they enjoy computing, 38 per cent saying they enjoy mathematics, and 36 percent enjoyed science.
“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,” Mamta Singhal, toy engineer and IET spokesperson, said in a statement.
She added: “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.”
You can join the conversation about women in STEM careers on Twitter with the hashtag #9PercentIsNotEnough.
If you know any kids who show a glimmer of interest in science (regardless of gender) and you're still stuck for Christmas present ideas, the IET recommended you think about build-your-own computer kits, robots, sci-fi figures, telescopes, microscopes, chemistry kits, K'NEX, and LEGO.
You never know, if not, you could be depriving the world of the next Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin, or Katherine Johnson.