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These Women Want Girls to Play With Tech-Savvy Toys

December 2, 2015, 10:24 PM UTC

They had dreams of growing up to become a lawyer, a dancer, and a pilot. The career paths they ended up taking look very different, and now they are inspiring little girls with options they never knew existed.

Melody Meckfessel, director of engineering at Google (GOOG), Aria Moffly, creative director of development at DC Entertainment, and Debbie Sterling, founder and CEO of GoldieBlox, spoke on stage at Fortune’s MPW Next Gen conference Wednesday about what they are doing to inspire the next generation of female engineers, technology entrepreneurs, and dreamers. It all comes down to meeting little girls where they’re at: on the playroom floor.

DC Entertainment, under Moffly’s leadership, launched DC Superhero Girls to provide a different type of toy. The new line focuses on bold-colored female superheros that “wear actual footwear so [they] can fight crime,” said Moffly. Moffly says she was also influenced by GoldieBlox’s mission to provide girls with alternatives to traditional toys for girls.

Sterling, whose GoldieBlox toys aim to get girls building, was inspired to start her company after taking a look at toy store shelves. While the boys had action heroes, erector sets, and Legos, the girls aisle was full of princesses and tea-party accessories.

“It seemed so obvious there was this huge gap,” said Sterling. “That’s when I saw my opportunity. I could introduce young girls to the world of building.”

By getting girls comfortable with building and coding early, these women hope to reverse a troubling trend. Today’s technology and engineering fields are heavily male-dominated. Only about 14% of engineers in the U.S. are women, according to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee. There were more female computer science students in the 1980s than there are today, and studies find that by eighth grade only half as many girls as boys are considering STEM careers.

“We need to think of new ways to change the culture of technology,” said Meckfessel. “I don’t know exactly what that is, but I’m excited about being part of that.”

Part of it starts at home with parental engagement. Meckfessel said she plays with GoldieBlox and Scratch, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s youth-focused coding platform, with her own 7-year-old daughter.

“If you can tap into that feeling of possibility and energy, it feels extremely empowering” said Meckfessel, reflecting on her own success.

For more from MPW Next Gen, watch this video: