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Levelling up ‘Girls’ toys is the first step in closing the STEM Gender Gap (and ACE and RILEY is on it)

stem toys for girls ACE and RILEY


VANCOUVER, British Columbia, March 08, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Just in time for International Women’s Day, a Vancouver based, all women start-up, ACE and RILEY is on a mission to close the gender gap in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers, starting in early childhood by leveling up what we consider ‘girls’ toys.

Women currently make up just over 50% of the workforce but only about 22% of STEM careers and less than 10% of engineering careers. The first step in addressing the STEM gender gap is looking at how we have been limiting, socializing and cognitively conditioning our young girls with stereotypical girls toys.

A quick jaunt down the girl’s toy aisle will reveal a sea of pink, largely targeted around all the things necessary to prepare a little one for a life of domestic bliss; caring for babies, cooking in the kitchen, cleaning up afterwards, and looking good while doing it with make-up and nail-polish. Beyond the social messages of what can be inferred by this section lies a much bigger issue, these toys are doing very little to help cognitive development during the most essential neurodevelopment time. Just as there are empty calorie foods and nutrient rich foods, there are empty calorie toys and nutrient rich toys, and the nutrient rich toys have not been evenly distributed across genders.

During the same critical neurodevelopment time period when girls are learning how to keep the perfect home, boys are interacting with toys that are not only conditioning them to imagine wildly ambitious adventures and careers, such as building a space-ship and traveling and setting up inter-planetary space stations, but they are actively engaging with a plethora of toys that develop visual spatial skills.

Research dating back as early as the 70s has supported the notion that preschoolers who engaged in “stereotypical 'boys' play, e.g., trucks, trains, cars, scored higher on spatial ability than those who engaged in stereotypical 'girls' play, e.g., dolls and doll furniture" (Conner & Serbin, 1977) and furthermore, access to stereotypically masculine toys has been a predictor of spatial ability which in turn is predictive of academic success (Serbin, Zelkowitz, Doyle, & Gold, 1990). It’s not that boys are born with a greater aptitude for STEM, it’s that girls have been held back by the lack of cognitively enriching toys marketed towards them at the time when their brain needs them most. We’ve known this for decades and yet very little has been done to rectify the situation and level the playing field for girls.

Enter ACE and RILEY, an all women start-up dedicated to transforming the way girls play by creating toys, activities and experiences that promote curiosity, problem-solving and exposure to foundational STEM skills while embracing and encouraging the fun of being a girl. ACE and RILEY have created innovative and unique play sets that build interest and aptitude in all STEM disciplines. The “Curie’osity Signature Science Set” named after the famous two-time Nobel Prize Scientist, Marie Curie, includes a 50-pc microscope set, a lab-coat with a customizable credential badge, safety goggles, a grow your own Magic Wand Experiment, and, wait for it… a luxurious tutu, all for only $99.

“Adding elements of dress-up to our STEM sets allows for children to engage and explore the activity longer than if the same activity was presented without the role-play component. We know that children retain information up to 20x better when presented in the form of a story rather than facts alone, therefore the lab coat and microscope can support the “I’m a scientist” narrative and the tutu just makes it more fun” says COO and co-founder Chantelle Stewart.

Although there has been a recent push to market toys as gender neutral, this approach doesn’t speak to every child. “There are kids that love wearing frilly princess dresses and glitzy jewellery and they shouldn’t have to choose between being feminine and being a scientist. It’s time to let girls know that these things can co-exist, you can be a ballerina scientist if you want to be” adds Dr. Amy Tanner, CEO and co-founder.

“We often get asked, “well what about the boys? Wouldn’t they benefit from playing with dolls and kitchen sets?” and I respond, of course they would, they could learn that these things are not just “girl things” but would boys playing with kitchen sets lead to more men pursuing culinary positions? Men are already well represented as restaurant owners and chefs internationally. Would playing with dolls lead to more men becoming pediatricians? Again, men are not under-represented in the medical fields, thus, boys toys are not holding them back, hindering their development or limiting their career options in the way girls toys have for decades,” adds Dr. Tanner, who studied neurodevelopment and neuroplasticity in infants and toddlers during her PhD studies.

Careers in STEM remain among some of the highest paying jobs as well as some of the most critical jobs responsible for dictating the future our children will grow up in. We owe it to our girls to make sure they will have an equal hand in what their future will look like, but we won’t get there without acknowledging how stereotypical girls toys are socially and cognitively limiting the ability to create their future. It’s time to re-design, re-think and revolutionize ‘girls’ toys.

Ace & Riley is a Vancouver-based toy company tired of seeing gendered toys persist on toy shelves and is actively producing toys to disrupt this through offering little girls the same opportunities to develop their brains that have long been afforded to little boys.