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Natasha Polyviou

Natasha Polyviou

How to Support Girls in STEM with Primo Toys’ Valeria Leonardi

Valeria Leonardi is co-founder and COO of Primo Toys. To support our #CodingGirls initiative for International Women’s Day, she shares her thoughts on women in the technology sphere, especially on the entrepreneurship side of which she has special experience. Before her Primo days, Valeria founded Pikslme (the company was sold to ExchangeWire in 2015), and received an MBA with merit from CASS Business School. In a past life, Valeria worked in the film industry both in production and PR for Miramax and Warner Brothers amongst others.  

Why is the Coding Girls initiative important to you?

One of Primo’s founding principles is to create toys that are equally as appealing to girls and boys. Cubetto was designed to be gender-neutral in order to encourage girls as well as boys to engage with technology from a young age; our case studies in schools and homes bear out that the coding toy is received enthusiastically by all children, regardless of gender.

With Coding Girls we want to amplify that message and encourage parents to think about ways they can help their daughters get ahead in STEM subjects. Research shows that UK girls and boys start out equally as interested in these subjects, yet girls’ interest drops sharply by the age of 16-17.

This leads to only 24 per cent of the STEM workforce being made up of women in the UK; clearly there is much more progress that needs to be made towards equality.

Given that the STEM employment sector is going to grow and grow (in the US for instance, STEM jobs are growing faster than any other sector), then today’s girls are missing out on opportunities to work in a flourishing industry.

We want to change this, and it starts from an early age. As Randi Zuckerberg (Zuckerberg Media CEO, mother and Cubetto supporter) expresses it: ‘We have to make technology accessible to all genders, languages and cultures, and it starts young.’

What made you want to join Primo Toys?

I have two children, including a young daughter, who refers to herself as the first Primo employee as she starred in the company’s first video. It was through Olivia that I became involved with co-founding Primo, and she is still a constant inspiration to me, reminding me how important it is to support young girls and boys in learning how to become self-confident, aware and free of prejudice when it comes to deciding who we want to be and what we want to do to make a difference in the world.

I come from a family of women pioneers. I am proud to have been influenced by two grandmothers with university degrees and long careers (in law and teaching respectively), an aunt who is a leading scientist, and a mother who worked as a Waldorf teacher, trained teachers and was immensely politically active. I hope to be able to look back at my life and see myself as continuing this tradition of strong women making a difference in their communities.

How can parents and educators support girls who show an interest in science and technology?

Montessori teaching tells us that it is important to be child-led and let the child express where their interests lie. We then have a wonderful opportunity to harness the child’s natural enthusiasm for a topic and do our best to nurture this interest. Some great approaches you can try:

1.Learn together about women pioneers in science and technology. Talk to girls about historical figures such as Ada Lovelace through to contemporary coding girls including model/coder Lyndsey Scott.

2. Seek out female role models in your community – an enthusiastic science teacher at your daughter’s school, an acquaintance working in technology – and talking with them about how they achieved their dreams.

3. Facilitate fun STEM projects at home, take trips to inspiring science museums and look into educational toys which make learning fun.

4. Join a group. Organisations like CoderDojo run coding workshops around the world and can be a great way to harness girls’ interest in computer programming.

5. For history day at school find a scientist they can dress as. Last year Olivia dressed up as Irene Joliot Curie, Marie Curie’s daughter and also a scientist. In the photo above you can see Olivia as Irene, along with her brother Lev as Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond series. 

What change would you like to see as a result of the Coding Girls campaign?

So committed are we to encouraging young women into the STEM industry, that we are delighted to be offering an internship at the Primo Toys offices in London! We hope to hear from girls interested in the business side of the STEM industry, and to give them a boost at an early stage in their careers. Primo Toys is made up of around 50% female employees so we feel that we are already walking the walk as well as talking the talk when it comes to gender parity in the tech workplace. 

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