I want the boy toy!

I am always pissed off when I go to McDonald’s and get a happy meal. (For the record, I do this probably 2-3 times a year, when I get one of those cravings for their fries, and I figure a kid-sized dose will not harm me much.) They ask if I want a “girl toy” or a “boy toy.” So I have taken to saying into the drive through lane “I want a boy toy” in a very ironic voice. Usually people don’t get the joke… But it always annoys me. I never wanted the fairy tale princess! I want the damn transformer!! Seriously, I can’t believe they still “gender” the toys!


Halloween season always reminds me how incredibly annoying it is that costumes marketed to girls still title heavily toward princesses and “cutesy” things. Meanwhile boys costumes get all the cool weaponry and usually involve super-heroes or characters that out saving the world. When I heard Christopher Bell’s Ted Talk: bring on the female superheroes a year ago it had a big impact on me. Toward the end (the last 3 minutes) his story still brings tears to my eyes. Well worth the watch if you are concerned about the impact of media on our gender constructions in this society.

The disparity in the types of toys that are marketed to boys versus girls starts a long process of determining the types of activities which are expected and encouraged. Companies such as the Walt Disney company, which has made a tremendous amount of money since 1937 selling princess “gear” to girls. Princess Leia does not fit with the public pedagogy of the other princess stories, so there are zero pieces of merchandise with Princess Leia. I am curious about Rey, who is undoubtedly an up-and-coming woman superhero. Will she be more available as this Target display suggests?

Rey at Target display

While there are female characters in movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, still the merchandise available is for the male superheroes, not the female ones like Gamora. What message does this send to girls? And what message does it send to boys? When t-shirts that show a scene from the movie that were originally featuring Leia against the Dark Lord are replaced with an image of Luke, we have to wonder: why is she always erased?

In the board rooms and the places where decisions are being made, women are still very much in the minority. When I am in meetings with other leadership at my company, typically the ratio is 5 or 6 to 1, or sometimes if we are lucky, it is 4 to 1. The pipeline for STEM careers, especially in science and engineering are not as large as for men (I am sure to write more about this in the future). But in leadership, it is even harder to scale those steep walls. When the brave and courageous images we receive and consume in our media-oriented society are all men, I believe this hurts women and girls. We do not have as many role models of ass-kicking, confident, and steady leadership to help us conceptualize our own possibilities as leaders. 

I was really excited to go to the Wonder Woman movie this year, and for the most part I was not disappointed. While a number of feminist critiques have been lodged against the movie, I still think the fact that it was made and wildly popular underscores our need for more female images of strength and power. I know for sure that is a “product” I will buy. And I believe if we transcend the “princess” images and open up more possibilities for girls and women, they will begin to claim their corresponding roles in leading in this world. We cannot afford to leave behind half of the wisdom of this world by suggesting they are any less capable than men. The challenges and problems of this planet depend on valuing and fully utilizing all of the talent we can muster. 


When work is play

Today I am working on a Saturday to prepare for a workshop that I will be co-facilitating on Monday with a favorite colleague. It will be a 2-hour session on “Innovation Jams, Design Thinking and the Medici Effect” with 16 students, mostly engineers and program managers at our company. The workshop filled up fast and apparently there are actually a few more people on the waiting list who had planned to take it as well.

I am so excited about this opportunity and the fact that I get to offer this type of workshop. The idea came about when we were brainstorming how to spread the word about how to use design thinking for every day problems, and how diversity drives innovation. It is a message that resonates with me, and I have so many stories and examples of how opening up to the “intersections” in our lives, whether cultural, or between fields or between genders, actually changes how we think.

In order to open up our creativity and to begin to invent novel solutions to problems, we must be willing to go beyond conventional thinking. Since our brains tend to resist that process, and are much more comfortable doing things as we have always done them, there are some tools and strategies we can use. One is to pay attention to what is happening around us and to notice things. Another is to talk with people who are different from us, who may have other perspectives. Yet another is to assemble teams from diverse backgrounds in order to solve problems. My favorite way is to PLAY! Do art, work with colors, play-act, do improve, and just have some fun. It is good for your brain.

Art store spree
Blick art materials – today’s spree for materials at our workshop

All of these are fairly simple and low cost, but yet they yield enormous benefits. I work in a very large medical device and health care solutions company that has big ambitions. My worry is that we are TOO BIG and the bureaucracy to get just simple things done is killing us. I think that stifles innovation, when we are weighed down by big systems that keep slowing things down. But I also want to help people find creative ways around this problem, because the mission of the company aligns with my personal goals.  There are a lot of brilliant scientists and engineers working there. I would love to help them find a way to tap into their best thinking to design products and services for patients around the world.

I often say when I am working on these types of “special projects” which are technically outside my job scope as a clinical research manager, that this work feels like play. I got to go to the art supply store and pick up an assortment of fun crafty items, so we can have the class members actually build physical prototypes to represent the solutions they create. Using tactile materials can help stimulate creativity, especially for those of us so used to working with ideas, words, and paper all day. I had a blast picking out various items that I thought our class could use. It truly felt like play, as it does when I work on design for these type of events.

How fortunate I am to be able to do this kind of work. Yes, I still have a pile of other things to do for my “real” job that I will have to catch up on as a result of spending more time on this. But what a privilege it is to get to do work that feels like play for some of my days. Namaste, friends. Hope you have plenty of time to play this weekend!