The gender pay gap is a complicated and hotly debated issue, but, believe it or not, baby toys could go a long way in solving the problem. There are many factors that contribute to the discrepancy between women’s pay and men’s, but one is the way little girls are conditioned to think that certain fields are boys’ territory – specifically higher paying fields like science, technology, engineering and math (referred to as STEM).
Thankfully, a new company called GoldieBlox is working help steer little girls toward lucrative and traditionally male fields with toys that teach engineering principles. Their introductory product is a book starring Goldie, the girl builder, and a tool kit so that girls can follow along with Goldie and build simple machines. It will take a lot more than new toys to fix gender inequality in the American workforce, but teaching girls from a young age that they can go into any field they want is a huge step in the right direction.
When people refer to the pay gap – the difference between what men and women earn – they’re usually talking about discrimination on the corporate level: women earning less for the same work even when they’re equally qualified. In 2011, women earned 77 cents on the dollar, a pay gap of 23%, according to The American Association of University Women (AAUW).
Critics attribute the discrepancy in pay to women’s life choices; from which major to pursue in college to whether to take time off for maternity leave. This is part of it, definitely, but according to the 2012 edition of The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap, a report by AAUW, it doesn't explain the whole problem.
“After accounting for college major, occupation, industry, sector, hours worked, workplace flexibility, experience, educational attainment, enrollment status, GPA, institution selectivity, age, race/ethnicity, region, marital status, and number of children,” the report says, “a 5% difference in the earnings of male and female college graduates one year after graduation was still unexplained.”
Groups like the AAUW, through research and advocacy, and politicians, as well as through legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, are working to close that 5% discrimination gap. But that doesn’t mean the factors contributing to the remaining 18% gap should be ignored.
GoldieBlox is working to change societal assumptions that perpetuate the cycle; men traditionally dominate higher paying fields like business and engineering, so it’s assumed that only men will pursue them. With that assumption in mind, little boys are encouraged to study math and science, while little girls are taught to nurture others and make themselves pretty.
By demystifying STEM early in young girls’ lives, informed parents, with the help of socially conscious companies like GoldieBlox, can teach little girls that anything is within their reach. And hopefully by the time the girls who grow up playing with GoldieBlox grow up, the “unexplained” 5% of the wage gap will have been closed by activism and legislation so that they can truly earn equal pay for equal work.