Purl: For Pixar achieving gender equality at work is the low-status groups’ responsibility

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Purl Final Scene: WARNING Wishful Thinking Ahead!!!

Last week, I received a link to Purl from a fellow diversity and inclusion advocate with the line “Wondered if you had seen this… it’s a brilliant explanation of the male-dominated workplace”.

Upon clicking on it, I was redirected to a Pixar 8-min short animation film called Purl which “features an earnest ball of yarn named Purl who gets a job in a fast-paced, high energy, bro-tastic start-up. Yarny hijinks ensue as she tries to fit in, but how far is she willing to go to get the acceptance she yearns for, and in the end, is it worth it?”.

It’s Pixar and the topic is very dear to my heart. I was eager to watch it.

I can confirm that the first minutes are an accurate depiction of a fast-paced white-alpha-male dominated work environment, all delivered with the high-quality designs we have come to expect from Pixar’s films. Unfortunately, other than an animated version of what thousands of studies, books, articles, videos, and training workshops have already said, there is nothing revolutionary in the film. On the contrary, it reinforces the status quo.

Why do I say so? Some examples are

  • Purl is accepted by co-workers only after becoming a caricature of them that “fits” in the workplace environment. We can rest reassured: Purl’s emotional labor has zero impact on the company culture. Proof of it it’s Lacy, the second ball of yard starting at the same department, who is snubbed by all her colleagues as Purl once was.
  • It’s up to Purl to choose between conforming to the office stereotypes or remaining “true” to herself. That is, a choice between being (a) self-centered and deceitful or (b) lose the high-status position hardly earned and save the day for the new ball of yarn. In the meantime, Purl co-workers are oblivious to all this.
  • The fairy tale ends showing a sugar-coated future where a white-male new hire is introduced by a ball of yarn to a dreamy and cheerful workplace paradise with a 50:50 white-male/balls of yarn employee distribution. How did we get there? Apparently, somehow Purl figured out!

In summary, the white-alpha-male collective can rest assured this “equality thingy” is no threat:

  1. It’ll be fixed by low-status groups at some point. Just keep hiring a couple of them now and then and they’ll *magically* figure it out.
  2. Don’t worry about sharing the workplace with “other” groups. With the last scene Pixar wants to reassure us that you may even like it!

I spoke about what I saw and I didn’t like. Some things I’d have loved to see…

  1. When Purl empties her stuff on her new desk, a framed summa cum laude MBA title side by side with her knitting needles.
  2. When Purl is patronized and pushed around in the meeting room, a white-male colleague stepping in and asking Purl to expand on her idea.
  3. Purl crushing it and getting promoted.
  4. Finally, a warning in the end credits stating that the idyllic workplace is a delusion. After all, the World Economic Forum estimates that closing the economic gender gap will take 202 years.

What else would you have hoped to see?

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