Researcher calls for gender neutral toys to improve STEM career gap

Forget the aisles of pink and blue, toy packaging and toy stores should be gender neutral in Australia to help girls into STEM careers, according to an Australian Catholic University (ACU) researcher. 

Department stores in California will now be required to display children’s products in gender-neutral sections as it becomes the first state in the US to pass the new law to avoid reinforcing harmful and outdated stereotypes.

Associate Professor Laura Scholes, from the ACU Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education, said Australian states and the territory should follow California’s example.

“Gendered children's toys create harmful and outdated stereotypes discouraging girls away from lucrative and rewarding STEM careers,” Associate Professor Scholes said.

She is the lead researcher of a new study of Year 3 children from 14 diverse Australian schools.

Along with Dr Sarah McDonald from the University of South Australia, Associate Professor Scholes found school-based STEM policies are too late to address gendered stereotypes and the 'girl gap' in the sciences.

“Our study found that by aged 7 to 8 years, both girls and boys had very stereotypical ideas about their future careers.

“Year 3 students in our study already had gendered career aspirations with girls' aspiring to traditional caring female roles and away from STEM,” she said.

“Companies such as Lego, who last week pledged to work towards ending gender stereotypes in products, are to be commended but more needs to be done.”

She recommends parents and teachers avoid gender stereotypes early in children’s lives.

The research has been published by the British Educational Research Journal.

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