Mattel SVP Diana Schildhouse: “The gender gap starts at a younger age than we thought. Young girls need the support to break down limiting self-beliefs and continue to believe that they can be anything”.

Yitzi Weiner
Jul 2 · 9 min read

There is a clear gap in the aspirations women hold and opportunities available. To produce the next generation of female leaders, we must figure out what is preventing women from reaching senior roles. Research has shown the gender gap starts at a younger age than we thought. Children pick up on cultural stereotypes at a very young age suggesting women aren’t as smart as men. These stereotypes are often perpetuated by the media and grown-ups who subtly reinforce them. Our ongoing global initiative aims to give young girls the resources and support to break down limiting self-beliefs and continue to believe that they can be anything.

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Diana Schildhouse, Senior Vice President of Global Strategy, Insights & Analytics for Mattel. Diana has spent 20 years at the intersection of consumer behavior and big data, leading insights, analytics, research and strategy organizations across several consumer-facing industries. At Mattel, Diana leads an organization focused on setting the strategic direction for the company, and integrating the voice of the consumer with holistic analyses around Mattel’s critical and interrelated causal drivers of brand and point of sale (POS) performance globally, including media, content, digital, trade, competitive and category landscape, and pricing. Her team has pioneered large scale advanced analytics capabilities at Mattel, including marketing and media mix modeling, price elasticity modeling, predictive machine learning analytics, and test and learn analytics. Diana received her MBA from Harvard Business School and her B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Southern California. She lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with her husband, daughter and son.


Thank you so much for joining us Diana! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path? What obstacles did you face?

As a kid I loved math and looking for patterns in data, while also having a passion for writing and storytelling. I started my career as an analyst at Disney and quickly found that I could have a greater impact in my work by weaving a story that brings the numbers to life for everyone else. I was drawn to the world of data science and advanced analytics as it emerged — going deeper in much more sophisticated ways to understand consumer behavior. You can go far below the surface to reach deep insights and surprising discoveries. I’m energized by bringing together tons of data, finding those connections and crafting a story so that people understand why the data is important and how to use it.

There are very few women in data science and navigating a male-dominated arena can be tough. Early on as I was getting into analytics as a career field, there were many times where I was the only woman in the room. Even as I became more senior there were instances when I was mistaken for an assistant, or times when conversations and questions were automatically directed to my male colleagues at the table, even when I was their boss. The surprised look on people’s faces when I turned out to be the one presenting these complex, technical topics, or when they realized I was the most senior person in the room that vendors were pitching, fueled my focus on wanting to change things for both myself and future generations. My advice to women starting out in fields that are traditionally male-dominated is to follow your passion and not let those moments get under your skin. Stay focused on your path and where you want to head. Look forward to those moments when you are the speaker or leader at the table, and one day in a room with many more women present.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I have been fortunate to work for companies in my career that have meaning and a personal connection for me. I have always been proud of the family-oriented values that shaped my fellow companies like Disney, Westfield and Mattel. Specifically, seeing what Mattel can do for children and families, on both the individual level and a much bigger societal level, is inspiring to me. Take Barbie for example. The empowering icon shows girls and women around the world that there is no limit to what they can be. After all, Barbie landed on the moon and ran for president before women took on these roles in the real world.

We also often contribute to charitable organizations’ community events at local schools. The toys Mattel brings are often the only toys those children will receive for Christmas or other holidays. Another philanthropic outlet is our partnership with the Make a Wish organization.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think those will help people?

In the same way data scientists can look at the attributes of something that seems so subjective and artistic like a song or movie and predict success, my team and I are challenging ourselves to garner insights for the toy industry. This industry is also driven by trends and changing consumer tastes, so we are working on developing predictive machine learning algorithms to inform the toys we create. If we can use data to help our designers understand exactly which components of their ideas are resonating most with our consumers, it can be another input into the creative process to help us make products that have the best chance of being loved by consumers.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

To female leaders and aspiring female executives, I would like to pass down a motto that has been given to me by my mentors: do not doubt yourself. Women’s leadership coach, Tara Sophia Mohr, found that women are less compelled to apply to jobs when they do not meet 100% of the qualifications, compared to men who apply when only meeting 60%. Experts attribute this difference to women’s lack of confidence. Project confidence in every work setting. You must believe that you can do it. Try to see yourself in that role and just go for it! If not you, then who?

Mattel is committed to giving women and girls around the world equal opportunity. That is why we launched the Dream Gap Project Fund, dedicated to supporting like-minded organizations who are leveling the playing fields for girls, while raising awareness to limiting factors that prevent girls from reaching their full potential.

I’ve always paid attention to branding — cultivating a brand for my team and a professional brand for myself. My team at Mattel has a logo that goes on all our work, and that stamp stands for credibility, accuracy and objectivity. I regularly ask my teams what they want to be known for within the company. Moreover, what do they personally want to be known for? And then we think about where the gaps are and what we each want to work on. Building that reputation early can drive success in your current role and remain as you progress in your career. Being known for something is what can help you stand out — it’s about figuring out what that something is and working hard to make it come to life.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Most importantly, women need to see other women in senior roles to foster a perpetual cycle of female build-up. Stand up for your fellow women and offer more opportunities to foster growth and inspire confidence.

Communication is paramount. As you take on a larger scope of responsibility and team size, you’re less exposed to the day-to-day of each area, so you need to ensure that everyone is aligned and working towards a larger goal. I host annual offsites where we talk about our vision and the direction our team is headed. People need to know that their work is impacting Mattel and understand the role they play within our team’s vision and where the company is headed. This validates the importance of their work and keeps us all moving in the same direction, galvanized towards a common purpose.

Overinvest in building one-on-one connections with your team. Early in my career I set up coffee chats to make sure I was in touch with how the team was feeling while answering questions and discussing concerns. Women can be great at fostering relationships and excel at these one-on-ones. In my experience, women have a strength in emotional intelligence (EQ), as well as functional expertise. As my team has grown and calendar has become challenging, it’s taken on different forms — from scheduling fun team events like cooking classes or impromptu lunches where I get to speak informally with folks, to simply walking around the floor to chat at their desks. These touchpoints are valuable for leaders to keep their finger on the pulse of how their team is feeling — to keep them feeling motivated, recognized and part of something bigger.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have learned so much in my career from many bosses and colleagues. I keep a journal with tidbits of advice I’ve received along the way that have had an impact on me. From smaller things like a vice president at Disney telling me not to doodle in meetings because it looks like I’m not paying attention — which I haven’t done for 20 years since hearing that — to much bigger things. One of my first bosses at Disney, Amy Bawden, helped shape who I’ve become in many ways. She gave advice about not taking things at work personally and taught me about cultivating professional maturity, giving me exposure to big opportunities by pulling me into senior meetings spur of the moment. Amy believed that I could stretch myself even beyond where I thought I could. Learning from a strong female leader early in my career shaped how I mentor the women on my team. I want them to see successful women in traditionally male-dominated fields like analytics and data science and know that they can do it too.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

There is a clear gap in the aspirations women hold and opportunities available. To produce the next generation of female leaders, we must figure out what is preventing women from reaching senior roles. Research has shown the gender gap starts at a younger age than we thought. Children pick up on cultural stereotypes at a very young age suggesting women aren’t as smart as men. These stereotypes are often perpetuated by the media and grown-ups who subtly reinforce them. As the original empowerment brand, Barbie launched the Dream Gap Project Fund. This ongoing global initiative aims to give young girls the resources and support to break down limiting self-beliefs and continue to believe that they can be anything.

I am also passionate about education so all children can get equal opportunity to start off on the right path in life. I love donorschoose.org because you can have a real impact on classrooms in your own community, and you can donate based on your personal interest in math, arts, science or anything. We have so much potential to level the playing field for kids everywhere through organizations like these.

Some of the biggest names in business, venture capital, sports and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the U.S. or the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I’m inspired by the lives and careers of so many who have broken through barriers and made a difference. My top three are Oprah, Michelle Obama and Indra Nooyi. I admire each of these women as they have broken through the glass ceiling of society’s boundaries and dramatically surpassed expectations in their respective fields. They are role models for women and girls everywhere by demonstrating that you can go far beyond what people think you can do.

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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