Lego announced this week that it will launch a new series of minifigures – all girls, and all scientists – after an online campaign pointed out a glaring gender gap among the toy company’s offerings.
Not only were there fewer Lego girl people, critics noted, but the ones that existed also had relatively uninspiring Lego lives.
“All the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and they had no jobs,” wrote 7-year-old Charlotte Benjamin in a letter to the company earlier this year, “but the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people, and had jobs.”
Lego boys “even swam with sharks,” she noted.
Benjamin wasn’t the only girl who was bothered. Dr. Ellen Koojman, a geochemist in Sweden, submitted a proposal for a science-themed project through the company’s Lego Ideas hub. Once a project receives 10,000 supporters, it qualifies for review by a set of designers and marketing representatives, who then hand-pick which design to construct.
Koojman’s project made the cut.
“As a female scientist I had noticed two things about the available Lego sets: a skewed male/female minifigure ratio and a rather stereotypical representation of the available female figures,” she wrote on her blog. “It seemed logical that I would suggest a small set of female minifigures in interesting professions to make our Lego city communities more diverse.”
The series, due to be released in August, includes an astronomer with a telescope, a paleontologist with a dinosaur skeleton, and a chemist working in her lab.
“The motto of these [s]cientists is clear,” said Koojman in her project proposal. “Explore the world and beyond!”
Encouraging women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), which tend to be male-dominated fields, has been a focal point of the Obama administration’s agenda. According to the National Science Foundation, men hold 87% of the world’s engineering jobs. And on the tech front, Google’s recent diversity report reaffirmed the stereotype that Silicon Valley is a boy’s club. Thirty-percent of the Internet giant’s employees worldwide were women, the report showed, and just 21% of women held leadership positions.
Some believe the disparity starts at a young age.
“Around age 8 is when you see girls losing interest in [STEM subjects like science, technology], engineering and math,” said Debbie Sterling, founder of GoldieBlox, to Yahoo. Her company aims to correct the century-old fact that construction toys are predominantly marketed to boys.
Lego actually played a major role in Sterling’s drive to create girl-friendly engineering toys. Her epiphany came when a fellow female innovator lamented over brunch that there were no “pink legos” out there for girls.