The Barbie movie aims to promote diversity, but Mattel’s head of DE&I admits the company has room for improvement

Mason Williams says that succession planning, professional development, and eliminating some degree requirements will help diversify the toy company.
article cover

Barbie/Warner Bros. via Giphy

· 3 min read

Barbie has been praised by some for its diverse cast. And women hold the power everywhere you look in Barbie Land, from government to business and even space. But the executives at Mattel don’t quite look like the residents of the magical world.

Mason Williams, Mattel’s global head of DE&I, recently spoke with HR Brew about how the company is working to create a culture of diversity and shape its next generation of leaders.

Art imitates life. Williams believes diversity is part of what has drawn audiences to Barbie. For Williams, this aspect of the movie exemplifies his experience working at Mattel. “We have a physical representation of what our core belief is,” he explained. “Our belief is that we’re at our best when everyone feels respected, included, and heard, so that we can be ourselves and [bring] the best of ourselves to the workplace.”

“[Diversity] gives us the chance to attract and retain great talent. It’s a big core to our business strategy,” he added.

And as popular as its products are (164 Barbies were sold every minute in 2021, and sales have jumped 56% since the film’s release), so are its jobs, for talent at every age. “When an 80-year-old toy company is attracting Gen Z talent, something is connected,” he said. “We have four solid generations in the workforce right now.”

Building a dream house workforce. As alluded to in the movie (we’re trying to avoid spoilers!), the company is aware of its shortcomings. Williams recognized that Mattel’s executive leadership doesn’t mirror its target consumer base. While women accounted for more than one-half of employees in 2021, they made up one-third or less of positions at VP level and above. Ethnically diverse populations filled less than one-quarter of those roles. Williams said that he and the chief people officer are dedicated to succession planning for the long-term.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

Our HR newsletter delivers need-to-know industry news and insights to HR pros every weekday for free.

“We’ve got to make sure that the people who are next on the talent bench, that’s representative of the way that we see ourselves as a company,” he said.

He said that the company is working to improve through various DE&I initiatives. For example, it eliminated degree requirements for many positions to diversify the applicant pool; “If you open up the pool, you’re gonna get more talent that people may not have seen before.”

It also regularly reviews diversity and compensation data. “You’ve got to have a diverse roster of qualified talent that we’re going to interview to make sure that we’re giving the right accommodations and thinking about those interviews equitably across the board,” he said.

Williams noted how important Mattel’s 10 employee resource groups (ERGs) have been to solidifying an inclusive culture internally, as well as with the products that go to market. However, he said that, for now, “we’re not to that point of having ERG leaders being compensated.” Leaders are instead provided recognition awards.

While Mattel isn’t perfect, they’re on a journey, Williams said. “It’s a path forward, and a path of progress…and we’re unwaveringly on it.”

Who knows? Maybe Mattel’s boardroom will be Barbie-fied in the future.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

Our HR newsletter delivers need-to-know industry news and insights to HR pros every weekday for free.