Pixar’s New Short Film Examines Workplace Diversity with Humor, Insight, and a Lively Ball of Yarn

February 7, 2019

Meet Purl. She’s the star of the first video in Pixar’s SparkShorts series. She’s also a vivacious ball of pink yarn who is desperate to succeed in a new job.

The eight-minute animated short, Purl, is a look at workplace diversity and inclusion. It starts with Purl excitedly arriving for her first day at B.R.O. Capital (the company name is as subtle as the film gets). Purl steps off the elevator with her box of desk accessories — including her knitting bag and her lavender “I’d Rather Be Knitting” coffee cup.

But as Purl looks around she realizes, shockingly, that she’s the only ball of yarn on the floor. And because of that, she constantly has the door slammed in her face, both literally and figuratively.

When she’s left behind as the rest of her department clears out for “two-for-one wings,” a despondent Purl decides to fight back — by becoming one of the boys. She becomes as loud, aggressive, and swaggering as pink yarn can possibly be. The film centers on the question of what Purl gives up in order to fit in.

The story was written and directed by Kristen Lester and was based on her own experience in animation. “My first job,” Lester says in a behind-the-scenes clip, “I was like the only woman in the room. So in order to do the thing I loved, I sort of became one of the guys."

That changed, she said, when she arrived at Pixar. “I started to work on a team with women for the first time,” she says, “and that actually made me realize how much of the female aspect of myself I had sort of buried and left behind.”

While the film is clearly about workplace diversity, it wrestles with questions of inclusion and belonging — do employees feel welcomed in their jobs and do they feel the psychological safety to be themselves. The film underscores the necessity of people being allowed to bring their authentic selves — the whole ball of yarn, if you will — to the workplace.

Pat Wadors, LinkedIn’s former head of HR, was an early champion of the importance of belonging. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Pat offered six tips for creating a culture of belonging. One of them was to share stories. “Storytelling is my favorite technique to generate belonging,” Pat wrote, “because we, as humans, are also wired to respond to stories.”

Fittingly then, in the final scene of the film, Purl is welcoming a new employee to B.R.O. “Tell us about yourself,” she encourages him. “We do love a good yarn."

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