In 1991, Anne Pitrone and Susan Matsumoto started a women's professional networking organization they called Women in Toys. pioneered the advancement of women in the toy industry with the inception of WiT. Thirteen presidents have served in the advancement of the Association, including Patti Becker, president from 2007-2013, who read about Walmart's $20 billion Women's Global Economic Empowerment Initiative (2011-2016), and immediately called Laura Phillips, then VP of Toys at Walmart and on the WIT Advisory Board, to discuss the opportunity and mutual benefit. Together, four short months later, they launched the WIT Walmart Empowerment Day as a conduit to provide women around the world with unparalleled access to pitch their products directly to Walmart buyers. There were 55 entrepreneurs and 11 buyers together in a room for six hours at the kickoff event at the February 2013 NY Toy Fair! One WIT member flew in from Australia just for the day to take advantage of this unprecented opportunity. To date, over 500 inventors have pitched their products during Empowerment Day, and numerous women-owned-business owners have shared their success stories on panels. Many of the products have landed on the shelves of Walmart and online at Walmart.com.
The workforce continues to see an increase in the number of women exiting. Two hundred seventy-five thousand women left corporate America in January alone, adding to the millions. Nevertheless, corporations still struggle with the gender gap. The 2021 Women in the Workplace report by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company stated that only 24% of C-Suite employees are female. Yes, providing better resources for working mothers helps. However, having allies in the workplace, both male and female colleagues, is a leading driver of success. The report also shares that when employees have strong allies, they are 53% less likely to consider leaving their company.
In the past decade, hundreds of women’s associations have organized within industries and around common interests as a way for women to support other women. However, Allyship is more than just a peer-to-peer interaction; it’s also when corporations step up to partner or sponsor women-led associations to help in the efforts of elevating women in the workplace.
Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment (WiT), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and global community that champions and advocates for the advancement of women, celebrates its 30th anniversary of supporting women and building allyships both within the Association and throughout the industry. WiT’s membership has grown 650% in the last five years and is represented throughout 20 U.S. chapters with a presence overseas, including the U.K., Hong Kong, France and Israel. It has created partnerships with notable brands such as Warner Bros., LEGO and Amazon.
“It starts with relationships,” states Janice Ross, president of WiT and founder of Fresh Brand Management. “It starts with conversations. So I met with our sponsors and discussed with them what their corporate priorities were around an equitable workplace, career development for women and developing female leaders. What is it that they were looking to do, and how are they looking to do it? And how can we together be the preeminent voice in our industry for women, how can we work together to do things that are even bigger, and again, have more impact?”
In 1991, Anne Pitrone and Susan Matsumoto started a women's professional networking organization they called Women in Toys. pioneered the advancement of women in the toy industry with the inception of WiT. They started small by hosting casual dinners with just a handful of women at the NY Toy Fair. Over the last three decades, the small gatherings evolved into a global organization hosting thousands of members, partners and allies and an annual staple event, the Wonder Women Awards gala, that honors top of the class in the industry. This year’s cohort includes Amanda Bright, senior director, product development at Spin Master, Jes Wolfe, CEO of Rebel Girls, and Azhelle Wade, CEO of The Toy Coach.
Thirteen presidents have served in the advancement of the Association, including Patti Becker, president from 2007-2013, who helped initiate WiT’s relationship with Walmart. Together they launched WiT Walmart Empowerment Day. Around that time, Walmart had set an initiative to source $20 billion from women-owned businesses through its Global Women’s Empowerment initiative. The retail conglomerate aligned with the Association as a conduit to reach women entrepreneurs in a synergistic relationship on their path to achieving that goal. So far, 502 inventors have pitched their products during Empowerment Day.
Since then, there have been significant strides to form allies within the industry. In 2020, WiT partnered with Mattel to create the Ruth Handler Mentorship Program. To date, there have been 413 mentee-mentor partnerships. Additionally, with diversity and inclusion at the forefront, WiT forged a relationship with Warner Bros. The partnership provides scholarship funding specifically for women in underrepresented groups.
It’s important for women to support other women, but male allies are equally beneficial in moving the needle forward. Recently, Ross met with Skip Kodak, president of LEGO Systems, Inc. He’s been an advocate for female leadership in the workplace and wanted to see how he could be a resource for the Association. LEGO eventually became partners through volunteer leadership of the WiT Young Professionals Network.
“Our partnership with WiT continues to grow because of our shared ambition to create opportunities for women to connect, share and develop toward unlocking their potential,” Kodak states. “Our industry belief in the importance of play for all makes us great partners to further advance, celebrate and advocate together for the women who are driving innovation and growth in toys and entertainment to ensure we inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow.”
As WiT continues to evolve and impact the industry, the Association’s leaders focus on the following essential steps:
“Previous to me stepping in as president, what I observed that the organization was great at was networking and bringing people together to connect and develop relationships,” Ross concludes. “How we’ve grown and evolved is that now we have the ability to deliver programming with subject matter experts. We’re educating people; we’re giving them access to information that they never had access to before. ... It’s about elevating our voice, but it’s also about taking these moments that we were experiencing in person and creating those moments across our whole community.”
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