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INDUSTRY FORUM WOMEN IN TOYS Supporting Female Employees’ Mental Health:

What Can You & Your Company Do?

by Lindsey Berger

WiT Member Lindsey Berger is a third-generation toy salesperson and a 12-year toy industry veteran. She is a mental health advocate and has worked with companies such as e Bridge, Ty, License 2 Play Toys, and currently, Melissa & Doug

For as long as I can remember, when anyone asked, “what do you want to do when you grow up?” My answer was always the same – sell toys like my grandpa and dad did. I grew up in the toy industry and have met the most incredible people over the years. e industry has changed and evolved over the past 80 years, and I believe it is more diverse and inclusive than ever before. Companies are now challenged to provide employees with a respectful, collaborative, equitable, and welcoming work environment.

As a third-generation toy salesperson and a 12-year industry veteran, my experience as a salesperson and as a woman has not always been one of inclusivity and acceptance. I have faced age and gender discrimination multiple times over the years from manufacturers and buyers. In an interview to independently rep one of the top manufacturers in the industry, the sales manager asked, “You aren’t going to go get pregnant and stop working your accounts, are you?” I was shocked and appalled by the question. Does getting pregnant mean I can’t work? Coincidentally, shortly a er this interview (I did not take the job), I became pregnant with my daughter. I worked through my entire pregnancy, and I continue to work just as hard (or harder) now.

Being a young female in the industry is not easy – the hours are long, and the work can be extremely stressful and overwhelming. A er living through a pandemic, it is more important now than ever for female employees to take care of themselves mentally and physically. Working from home or a hybrid model can be very isolating and lonely, so connectivity to others is key. Most of us spend 40+ hours at work every week, but life is about so much more. Joy and happiness come from many di erent places, including spending time with family and friends, enjoying hobbies, interacting with pets, etc. Being mentally healthy at home and at work is incredibly important to personal and professional development and success. All employees should be embraced, celebrated, and supported on a daily basis at and outside of work.

To provide support for the amazing women in our industry, there are various activities that all companies can implement and/or participate in.

1. Create Corporate Affinity Groups

An affinity group is a group of people that are linked by common purpose, backgrounds, beliefs, or interests. This group comes together to share experiences, educate one another, and develop programs to make a company more inclusive. I currently co-lead the mental health affinity group at Melissa & Doug LLC. Our group meets once per month to do an activity together to promote positive mental health. For example, our affinity group recently played toy trivia to take a break from the workday. Next up, our group plans to participate in a 45-minute art class to promote positive mental health through creativity. Companies need to empower employees to create and lead these groups to encourage an inclusive workplace. The ability to interact with coworkers within a safe space who share similar interests creates a sense of belonging within the organization. Connecting with other employees within a company helps build trust, strengthens teamwork, and helps employees relate to one another on a personal level.

2. Institute a Mentorship Program

Corporate mentorship programs provide a great platform to empower and educate female employees. These programs give employees one-on-one time with industry novices to offer advice, insight, and support. Professional development programs help build confidence and encourage career and personal growth. I have participated in a number of mentorship programs, and to this day I still lean on my mentors for professional and personal support. I also now act as a mentor for Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment, and have the pleasure and honor of assisting up-and-coming industry women with networking and professional development.

3. Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment

Networking is one of the most effective tools a person can use to develop a network of professional and personal support within the toy industry. The best networking group for females in the industry is Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment. WIT connects women across the industry by hosting virtual forums, programming, workshops, and interactive in-person events. WIT members come from all different backgrounds, but all share the common bond of providing support for one another. Through WIT networking, I have been lucky enough to meet industry mentors and life-long friends.

4. Encourage Dialogue and Interaction Between Female Leadership and Female Associates

Female leaders have a responsibility to the women of this industry to lead with integrity and by example. Having open access to female leadership within an organization is critical to the success of other female employees. Open dialogue, forums, and conferences allow female employees to learn from experienced leaders and give them an opportunity to ask for professional advice. An inclusive workplace encourages positive mental health by empowering employees and providing a sense of belonging. The toy industry has come so far over the years, but we still have a very long way to go. Companies need to commit to diversity, inclusion, and equity training for all employees. We need to empower one another, male or female, to be bolder and braver than the day before. Our female workforce needs support, equal access to opportunities, and dedication from leadership to provide a mentally healthy work environment.

One last thought – as an industry that brings joy to children and families all over the world, and in fact, creates toys that teach kids empathy, I would ask that you embrace and practice empathy in the workplace and in your daily life. We are living in challenging times. Focus on listening, be curious and talk to those around you, notice body language, put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and take action and offer help. Let’s live each day with empathy, and strive to elevate one another to be the best version of ourselves.