Only Male Chips Off Lego’s Old Block

LegosWhen the new lady Lego “scientists” came out in June, I wrote about it critically here. Slapping bangs on a botanist, I said, will not suffice. Who cares what the scientist looks like if the entire product line reinforces the boys-toys-are-separate-from-girls-toys mantra that discourages girls from pursuing male-dominated fields like STEM to begin with?

Three months later, I’ve got backup.

When I did a little digging back in June, I found that the management team over in Lego Land has just a token few ladies. No wonder the company’s first attempts at broadening its fan base left room for improvement. When you are designing and marketing specifically for women, sometimes you need a woman’s perspective. Not necessarily in the CMO role, which I was not too surprised to find filled by a man. But maybe it would have been helpful to have more than two females as part of the 25-person senior management team, or more than one woman on the board of directors. 

Now an expert weighs in. Aviva Wittenberg-Cox, a CEO, author and writer, discusses Lego’s girl problem over at the Harvard Business Review blog. She examined the company’s history and concurred that its challenge in integrating girls to its market is only exacerbated by having virtually no female representation at the C suite level.

All this begs the more critical and, yes, immediate, issue of supporting the promotion of women to prominent, external-facing management positions and board of director seats. We all know the statistics. Only about 17% of Fortune 500 board seats are filled by women (there’s a thoughtful discussion of this here).

A few trends make me hopeful that the tides may change. First, attention may encourage companies to identify promising female candidates; second, and more importantly, many boards are now searching for social media expertise, an industry in which women have led the way to become some of the preeminent experts. 

None of this matters to my daughters, of course, who for now stick to their Goldieblox and their classically male (except we don’t tell them that) Lego engineer sets. I probably can’t convince Lego to shake up its corporate structure, but I can encourage my girls to pursue their wildly creative, technically demanding dreams. And when they do, maybe they’ll land seats on Lego’s board.



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Scooters: America’s Most Underdeveloped Industry

stroller parking, ubiquitous in the States

stroller parking, ubiquitous in the States

American families love themselves a good stroller, maybe seven. We had three: the Bugaboo Chameleon, the Uppa Baby Vista converted double (truly amazing & convenient with two) and the Maclaren Velo umbrella stroller. For every day, a new carrier.

Here’s the thing though: I never used them. Strollers are cumbersome and awkward to manoeuvre on Big Apple sidewalks. When I was in charge, I carried the kiddos in my arms or in the Ergo. And what of those $2500 of strollers we owned? Our nanny who used them every day.

she's seven

she’s seven

so is he

so is he

When you walk down the streets of Manhattan, or in any suburban mall in America, you will see children tidily tucked in their strollers. Single strollers, double and triple strollers, front-facers, rear-facers, umbrella strollers, jogging strollers, even ones that hitch on to the back of bikes. With all this choice, American children do not walk until adolescence.

Europeans do it differently. Our very first week in London, our babysitter tried to conceal her embarrassed laughter the as I struggled to carry our — not one but two — children on my hips, up the hill to our new home.

“She has to walk,” Juliette said of our older daughter, then three and a half. Her thick French accent illuminated my own foolishness. Of course she had to walk on her own! Now if only I could convince her of this necessity . . .

Mini Micro Ride On

Mini Micro Ride On

Mini Micro

Mini Micro

Maxi Micro

Maxi Micro

In London you see, and everywhere on the Continent we have visited so far, children are seldom strolled. They either scoot or they walk. Only infants are exempted. By the age of 20 months, children are plucked from their baby carrier and placed directly on the Micro, Europe’s favourite scooter. There’s a Micro for every age, starting at 1.

Of course I wondered whether this mass conformity suggested a formal State-funded scooter program, like NHS for child transport. Generally a conservative, I could actually get behind this type of public works project. Parents will understand the tyranny of “carry me!” It hurts, and it puts you in dangerous proximity of uncovered sneezes and sticky fingers.

The Micro is genius. [I am not being paid to say this] I want every single (personalised) one. There are convenient little cords for parents to pull particularly young scooters to and fro until they get their sea legs at approximately 22 months. 

Now thoroughly an Anglophile in my approach to child transportation, it boggles my mind why scooting is still a nascent industry in the States. In New York it’s regarded with much more caution than it is here, and it’s reserved for the Kindergarten set. I have never seen a two year-old in New York scooting along; here, I have never seen a five year-old in a stroller.

We’re expats, which means that I haven no idea whether we are going home in one month or 100. What I do know is that if we return home, the scooters go with us. Yes, plural. All three of them. As for our strollers, we’ve tossed two and keep one for emergencies. Maybe I can pawn it off on some unsuspecting newly transplanted American.


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10 Great Books

Kid-1's favourite book

Kid-1’s favourite book

My parenting philosophy is minimalist and a touch nerdy. But I love good books, and perhaps because I’m so finicky about choosing each one, so do our children. 

Some of our favourites are found at museums (modern art museums have the best selections, particularly for the toddler set). 

Here’s an incredibly well curated set of 10 fantabulous books from the folks at Working Mother

10 Books that Help Kids Learn the Basics

Number 10: Tiny, a book about microbes, is our older daughter’s current favourite.

All books available in the US; most available in the UK.


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Sunday Reading

Happy Sunday. 

This week’s reading list is heavier on economics and science, but there’s a shopping challenge too. Enjoy!

The Learning Myth: Why I’ll Never Tell My Son He’s Smart -Salman Khan

I tweeted this a few weeks back, but we’ve been working on this at home. Great advice is worth a re-read.

How a 19th Century Math Genius Taught us the Best Way to Eat a Pizza Slice -Wired

Whatever your kids think of science, all children love pizza. experience.

Making New Friends: In Praise of  Name Tags -Mary Laura Philpott, NY Times Motherlode

Yes, yes, yes! 

Picking Holes in Piketty -Free Exchange, The Economist

The controversy isn’t limited to Thomas Piketty’s conclusion itself. Now his data & analysis are under scrutiny. Stay tuned. 

How to Save $1 Billion Without Even Trying, Freakonomics Podcast

Buy generic, even for kids stuff. All the experts do.

“It Looks Like You’re Writing an Angry Message”, – Johnson: Autocorrect, The Economist

Apple: doing its part to make us nicer.

and your shopping challenge . . . one new spice your children haven’t tried.

We’re heading to my absolute favourite spice store for a new curry powder to make these delicious curried carrots for dinner. It’s all part of my lazy parenting hack to ensure I’m never stuck making multiple meals. 




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Breast Pump May Suck No More!

I know, this hands-free pumping bra looks torturous. But it was the only effective tool in converting my pumping time into useful time. Thank you, SimpleWishes. Breast pumps themselves, on the other hand, seemed to strive only for frustration.

I know, this hands-free pumping bra looks torturous. But it was the only effective tool in converting my pumping time into useful time. Thank you, SimpleWishes. Breast pumps themselves, on the other hand, seemed to strive only for frustration.

Women (including me here) have long complained about how much the breast pump, well, sucks.

It’s clunky, it’s loud, it’s painful, and its suction power barely rivals that of a newborn infant. This cannot be the best that scientists and engineers can construct.

MIT listened to our grievances, and next weekend, is hosting a hack-athon to improve this contraption.

Think you can build a better breast pump? Have some ideas to contribute? Please, please.

My fingers are crossed that my daughters don’t wind up sitting half-naked, pumping in windowless offices for 25 minutes at a time, frantically trying to mute and un-mute the conference call, just like we all did.





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Mystery Solved! (Maybe)

was he, or wasn't he?

was he, or wasn’t he?

Cool science nugget of the day.

Jack the Ripper might have been a lunatic Polish immigrant barber named Aaron Kosminski, who died in an asylum 30 years after the infamous murders.

The sleuth making this claim is Russell Edwards, whose book is available as of tomorrow. Edwards used DNA evidence from a purportedly unwashed blood-stained shawl found at one of The Ripper’s earlier murders, which he purchased at an auction in 2007, to purportedly solve this 120 year-old mystery.

Despite the fact that DNA scientists are already discrediting Edwards’ experimental process, and the fact that we can never know for sure whether this guy is the one because of the limits of scientific evidence, there are at least two really cool science-y educational themes here for kids.

[Read more...]

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Speakin’ Statues (Leapin’ Lizards!)

Personally, I have always found statues a bit boring. 

Peter PanI mean, between trying to remember whether a horse with its legs in the air means the rider was killed in battle and wondering whether the bust actually looked like the patron saint or was just an actor, the whole experience is just a little dull. 

But then, this. Statues speak! 

Isaac Newton at the British Library

Sing London, a UK nonprofit focused on art appreciation, commissioned 35 talking statutes across London and Manchester. The project is called, appropriately, Statues Speak.

And they’re funny too!

Famed writers and actors scripted and recorded their interpretations of what they thought the characters would say . . . if they could talk. Visitors can access the recordings on a smartphone.

london-mapPersonally I am dying to eavesdrop on Sherlock Holmes statue on Baker Street, Isaac Newton at the British Library and Queen Victoria at Blackfriar’s Bridge.

Fancy yourself a Gipetto? Go ahead animate your own sculpture. Talking Statues is sponsoring a contest to create monologues for four statues in London and Manchester. Try the Leaping Hare on Crescent and Bell.

What great imagination inspiration. Fun started August 19th, runs until the same date, 2015. Happy weekend! 

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(Feminist) Mother at Trotters

I only realised I was a feminist when I had children.

By now, two daughters deep into parenthood, I have graduated from redirecting their and my attention to gender neutral toys, books and philosophies. It would be unfair to call my approach to gender stereotyping hostile, but I am certainly sensitised and, as an American, vocal.

Of the many things that have surprised me about the UK, there is one that remains perplexingly frustrating, which I doubt I will ever be comfortable with: the stereotypical gender-ising of toy stores.  

[Read more...]

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Need a Gift Idea?

On our recent trip back to the States I discovered three awesomely fun, honestly educational toys for the kids. 

I love a good toy store (as I’ve written before). One of my favourite toy stores in the whole world is the Learning Express franchise in Darien, CT. It’s excellently curated and stocks fun, vibrant and yes, educational toys. Here are three I put on my purchase list.

SimonSimon Electronic Game

Thats’ right. The same one you played as a kid! Every child loves colours, sounds and patterns. This adds a touch of competition. I am obsessed, and it’s available in the UK too.

I may be more excited about this one than the girls are. 

Q Ba MazeQ Ba Maze 2.0

It’s a marble run! It’s an engineer’s paradise! It’s artwork!

Design whatever you desire with the interlocking cubes and watch the marbles plop, scoot, drop down your creation. Available in the UK too, but at exorbitant prices!

TrebuchetKeva Trebuchet

Imagine building your own medieval siege machine and slinging marbles, marshmallows and macaroni across the house! The trebuchet kit lets you and your little one (ages 7+; may be suitable for a sophisticated 5 year-old but not younger) practice knocking down targets. 

The Trebuchet is organised scientific mayhem, exactly the type I can condone at home.

Available in the UK at a premium price.



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