Walt Disney’s CEO Bob Iger has shown no willingness to back down in the face of the governor’s efforts to campaign against diversity training.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has made Disney World, one of his state’s largest employers, the target of his so-called war on woke.
At the root of the dispute are former Walt Disney (DIS) – Get Free Report CEO Bob Chapek’s remarks opposing the Republican governor’s new law, which limits the ability of educators to discuss gender identity and sexual orientation with children.
Labeled the Don’t Say Gay bill, the law met with huge pushback from Disney employees, who had criticized Chapek for initially not speaking out against the bill.
That led the then-Disney boss to take a direct stand against the governor’s actions, which in turn led DeSantis to strip the company of its special tax status.
DeSantis has decided to use Disney as the center of his political-theater culture war because it’s an easy, and nonmoving, target. The company can’t pack up Disney World and move it to New York, Massachusetts, or some other liberal bastion, so it mostly has to take whatever the governor dishes out.
But while DeSantis wants to use Disney as a target, he’s mostly playing to the cameras; clearly, he’s not actually looking to take down the largest single-site employer in the U.S. Disney World generates tens of thousands of jobs, pays the state a lot of money. and brings in billions of tourism dollars — many of which are spent outside its gates in the broader Florida economy.
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Disney CEO Iger Uses Actions, Not Words
Disney CEO Bob Iger understands that actions speak louder than words and words can come back to haunt you.
The returned Mouse House boss has not called out DeSantis, nor did he fight the governor’s takeover of its Reedy Creek Improvement District.
On paper, Disney World appears to have lost its right to self-govern. That’s true, but it doesn’t mean much because it’s not as if the state — even DeSantis’s handpicked cronies who now oversee the former Reedy Creek Improvement District — intend to actually get in Disney’s way. The company prints money for the state.
So, that’s why Iger — who had publicly spoken against the Don’t Say Gay bill when he was a private citizen and not Disney CEO, has not called out DeSantis. A speech decrying the governor’s actions, pointing out that they “put vulnerable, young LGBTQ people in jeopardy,” as he said before taking the CEO job back, would not help Disney.
Instead, Iger has let his company’s actions speak.
Disney World plans to host a “major conference promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the workplace” at the Disney World Resort this September, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Disney Boldly Challenges DeSantis
Disney World will host the annual Out & Equal Workplace Summit in September.
“The largest LGBTQ+ conference in the world, with more than 5,000 attendees every year. It brings together executives, ERG leaders and members, and HR and DEI professionals and experts — all working for LGBTQ+ equality,” the event’s organizer, Out & Equal, said on its website.
“Over more than 20 years, Summit has grown to become the preferred place to network and share strategies that create inclusive workplaces, where everyone belongs and where LGBTQ+ employees can be out and thrive.”
The Tampa Bay Times called simply hosting the event “a defiant display of the limits of DeSantis’s campaign against diversity training.”
Instead of giving a speech and becoming even more of a right-wing-media talking point, Iger showed his employees where Disney stands through his actions. It’s a smart choice by a seasoned executive not to become an actor in DeSantis’s political theater.
The Florida governor wants to be perceived as battling ‘woke” Disney without actually hurting his state’s relationship with the company. The newspaper described exactly how that works when it looked at the new government powers the state has taken from the theme park giant.
The subsequent legislation left most of Disney’s special powers in place despite the governor’s attempt to dissolve the district. The conservative members the governor appointed to the board hinted at the first meeting of the new board that they would exercise leverage over Disney, such as prohibiting COVID-19 restrictions at Disney World. But legal experts have said that the new board’s authority has no control over Disney content.
DeSantis wants a culture war, or at least one that’ll play out in the media. Iger knows better and has played the situation perfectly.