by MARY KAY RUSSELL, executive director of Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment

Entering its 30th-anniversary year, Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment (WIT) recently made the exciting announcement that Janice Ross, managing partner at Brand Fresh Management, has ascended to the role of WIT president after serving on its leadership team as vice president for the last two years.

An industry veteran for more than 20 years and senior-level global licensing and marketing executive, Ross has a diverse background across multiple industries from entertainment to consumer products, having worked at LEGO, American Greetings, and Lisa Frank Inc.

With her strong commitment to helping women advance and succeed, coupled with her extensive and varied knowledge, Ross has built a career creating and maintaining trustworthy business relationships with like-minded individuals and companies, and she brings this same passion to her new role at WIT.

Now is your chance to get to know Ross a little better as she shares her views on her new role, how she plans to tackle it, the challenges women in our industry face, and what’s on the horizon for WIT.

Mary Kay Russell: What attracted you to WIT?
Janice Ross: Hands down, it’s the incredible people in the WIT community. What drew me in as president is my strong belief in and commitment to our mission of advancing women. I’ve been in this business for more than 20 years, and this is an amazing way for me to give back and have the opportunity to make a real difference.
WIT is a robust group of more than 2,000 professionals who come from all corners of our industry. They want to connect with each other and participate in the organization through our myriad of networking events, webinars, and programming, such as our recently announced Ruth Handler Mentorship Program, which is our industry’s first one-on-one online mentoring initiative.

These vital resources can help women bolster their industry knowledge, elevate the quality of their networks, and have a beneficial impact on their careers. More information about these game-changing programs [and events] is available at womenintoys.com.

MKR: Looking to the future, what are your top goals for WIT?
JR: There continues to be a gap in female leadership today in many areas of the business. What’s exciting to see is that so many of our WIT partners and sponsors who believe in our mission and support our efforts are coming together, rolling up their sleeves, and working with us to advance more women into leadership roles. My goals for the organization are to deliver on that mission by continuing to elevate awareness and lead the conversation about the challenges we face, help to come up with solutions, and provide critical programming and opportunities that will help our members advance and succeed. Together, we’ll cultivate more female leaders who will positively impact our industry’s bottom-line results.

The WIT Executive Committee (pictured left to right) rang the closing bell at the Nasdaq MarketSite on Friday Feb. 21: Alita Friedman, Nancy Zwiers, Jennifer Caveza, Ashley Mady, Janice Ross, Mary Kay Russell, Genna Rosenberg, and De de Sherbinin.

MKR: In your view, what are the challenges facing women in our industry today?
JR: I see a few top challenges for women, the first of which is confidence. At times, our natural instinct is to understate our experience and capabilities and [believe] that with enough hard work, our talents [will] be recognized and rewarded. But what we’ve heard from so many successful leaders, both female and male, is that they stepped up into roles they were not exactly qualified for on paper, but [they] had the confidence to know they could learn and succeed in those roles. I would like to see more women own their power, be more confident, and use their voice to successfully navigate and lead in today’s business environment.

Second, women have historically been given fewer opportunities to propel their careers to new heights. We see this across most industries, and ours is no different. There are many ways for women to gain new experiences that will prepare them for future roles, and I look forward to having this important conversation with our community and industry leaders. We need to explore ways we can collectively change this and give women more visibility and exposure to new opportunities.

MKR: How do you think WIT can help solve these challenges?
JR: We’ve created programming and opportunities to help foster these and other important leadership skills for women and the men who advocate for them to succeed. We have a network and community that introduce women (and men) to each other across industries. Having a robust network is critical to succeed in any business. Women need to build their skills and resumes and then be given the chance to take on leadership positions.

MKR: WIT has grown so much over the last few years. What fuels the organization?
JR: We’re a 501(c)3 nonprofit that was purely volunteer-run until 2016. Since then, we’ve hired two full-time employees — our Executive Director Mary Kay Russell and our Community Manager Peg Brom — and several project managers. We rely exclusively on sponsorship and membership to fund all of our programming and initiatives. Other than our small-but-mighty staff, WIT is fueled by hundreds of volunteers who, like me, juggle our day jobs with our passion to make WIT the amazing community that it is today.

The magic of WIT is in the people who participate and have the passion to deliver on our mission. As we continue to be a visible voice for advocating the advancement of women, we invite the toy, licensing, and entertainment industries to join WIT and become a part of our powerful community.


This article originally appeared in the April/May 2020 issue of the Toy Book.