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Living Out: How LGBT employees are valued at Mattel

Editor's note: Peter Gandolfo is a senior marketing manager at Mattel. He started OPEN, the LGBT organization at Mattel, and is an active member.

When I first applied to business school, I didn’t come "out" in my applications. I wanted to get accepted on my own merit. Things didn’t turn out so well; I was wait-listed at one school and rejected from two others.

When I reapplied the following year, I took a different approach. In addition to raising my GMAT test score and volunteering, I opted to be open about who I was and what I had to offer. I figured that if business school was supposed to be a training ground for the real world, I could help expose my non-LGBT classmates to a component of diversity they would encounter in the workplace.

When submitting my resume for on-campus recruiting for summer internships, I included my involvement in the LGBT student club. I knew this could limit jobs I might be considered for, but I didn’t want to work at companies that didn’t want me just because I was gay.

I received an internship at Ford Motor Company, which led to a full-time position after graduation. On multiple occasions during my time there, my managers shared their appreciation for my openness. While my orientation wasn’t a daily topic in the office, being clear about who I was in my resume and when I arrived on the job created a sense of trust and closeness.

When I joined Mattel six years ago, I quickly realized that it wasn’t just a company with the appropriate policies in place — it was a culture where LGBT employees at various levels thrived.

I joined a Barbie marketing team made up of mostly women, where, if anything, being gay gave me a level of credibility in a fashion-driven business. Whether or not I deserved that credit is open to debate.

In 2008 I was presented with the opportunity to start an employee resource group (ERG) for LGBT employees within Mattel. My first reaction was that I didn’t think we needed one.

The culture at Mattel already made me feel supported and included.

In the end, I decided that I needed to start the ERG for my LGBT coworkers who were not in the same place as I was. Maybe there were people who hadn’t experienced the inclusiveness that I had, people who didn’t feel like they could bring their full selves to the office every day.

I also needed to do this for my coworkers that I couldn’t count as straight allies yet, because they didn’t understand or didn’t know much about the LGBT community.

Mattel approved our ERG’s application by the end of 2008.

We named it OPEN, which stands for Our Proud Employee Network. Aside from wanting to represent everyone in the LGBT community, we took a cue from the gay straight alliances in high schools in making the inclusion of straight allies a priority from the beginning.

Today, straight allies comprise about half of our 80-member group.

While the group is still in its early stages, we’ve been successful in executing initiatives that deliver on several of our goals. Our accomplishments include:

  • A presentation at an employee update conference, seen by thousands of employees at headquarters and around the world, which built awareness of our organization throughout Mattel.
  • Newly implemented diversity training, which has helped extend a greater level of respect and understanding within Mattel.
  • Pride month celebrations, which included a lobby display of leaders of the gay rights movement, a senior executive guest speaker who talked about living an authentic life, and sponsorship and volunteering for a fundraiser to help LGBT and questioning youth.
  • Sponsorship and participation in the Out & Equal Conference, which helps us identify tools for success of our ERG, develop leadership skills for ERG members, promote our company to potential employees, and market our brands to consumers in the LGBT community.
  • Participation in the Reaching Out MBA Conference, the only conference for current and prospective LGBT MBA students, which helped us recruit a more diverse workforce.
  • Cooperation with the Office of Diversity in our application for the HRC Equality Index. (We received a 100 for the first time!)
  • While I started OPEN for others, the returns it has paid to me are immeasurable.

    Leading our ERG has given me exposure to senior leaders within our organization; these and other relationships I’ve built with peers throughout the company help me succeed in my job. And waking up every day to come to work at a place that values and champions me as I am makes the hard work to get here all the more worth it.