Diversity at Disney
For more than nine decades, the name Walt Disney has been preeminent in the field of family entertainment. From humble beginnings as a cartoon studio in the 1920s to today’s global corporation, Disney continues to proudly provide quality entertainment for every member of the family, across America and around the world. The company is diversified, focusing on its mass media headquartered in Burbank, California (Iger, 2012). In terms of revenue, it is the largest media conglomerate in the world (Silkos, 2009).
Founded on October 16, 1923, by the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, Walt Disney Productions established itself as a leader in the American animation industry before diversifying into live-action film production, television, and travel (Disney History, 2012). Disney has expanded its existing operations and also has started divisions that are focused on theater, publishing, radio, music, and even online media. It has also created new divisions to market more mature content than it typically associates with its flagship family-oriented brands (Iger, 2012).
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The Walt Disney Motion Picture Group is one of the best known studios in Hollywood. It owns and operates the ABC television network, ABC Family, the Disney Channel, A&E and ESPN. It also supports a music division, a theatre division, all of the publishing and merchandising, and owns and licenses 14 theme parks worldwide (Silkos, 2009). The purpose is to analyze Disney according to major organizing principles of society: gender, race, age, religion, disabilities and sexual orientation.
Children learn about these societal constructs from many sources, but the media are powerful sources of learning. Given Disney’s dominant position in children’s media, it is important to examine the messages related to diversity. Disney views the development of a diverse workforce as a business imperative and a catalyst to achieve better performance. They embrace diversity, to better serve their consumers by better reflecting the communities they serve. Disney believes that a diversity of opinions, ideas and perspectives enhances their internal creativity and the company’s vitality.
They’ve been building a workforce representative of the global marketplace in which they operate, while fostering an inclusive environment for employees and their families. Although they believe they have plenty of progress to make, they are proud that Disney now employs the most diverse workforce in its history (Farino, 2012). In 2010, Disney was named to Diversity Inc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity, which recognizes companies that demonstrate consistent strength in CEO commitment, human capital, corporate and organizational communications and supplier diversity.
This year, they were included in the Top 25 most noteworthy companies (DiversityInc, 2012). Additionally, Disney has scored 100 percent for three consecutive years on the 3 Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index, which gauges workplace inclusivity and was recently named by Business Week in the top 50 companies for MBA students to begin their careers (Human Rights Campaign, 2011). Disney prides themselves on approaching diversity in the broadest terms and seeks to build a workforce that blends people from all ages, experiences, backgrounds, ethnic groups, and lifestyles.
As the war for top talent heats up, employers all across the world are acquiring new and revised managerial processes for developing a working environment that maximizes the potential of all employees by valuing diversity. As the workforce demographics shift, the competition to attract diverse candidates substantially increases for those companies wishing to remain competitive in the marketplace. Each year in the US, Universum conducts an IDEAL Employer Survey amongst undergraduate and MBA students with diverse backgrounds to determine what minority students are looking for in a future employer.
More than 12,800 students at 115 schools across the country ranked their top companies and their top industries, and answered questions about career expectations and goals, characteristics, salary expectations and communication preferences. The gold medal as IDEAL Employer for diversity MBA and undergraduate students goes to Google, followed by Walt Disney, Goldman Sachs and McKinsey (Universum, 2012). Disney, which prior to 2005 had always been at the top of the list, has regained a leading position thanks to its massive recruiting efforts and its strong consumer brand.
Disney has a variety of diversity-training programs, including programs on generational communications, creating an inclusive environment, disability awareness and inclusion leadership training. Disney works to accommodate guests with disabilities by training cast members, making the latest technology available for visitors, and constantly reviewing policies and procedures that govern park operations. In addition, visitors with disabilities can plan their Disney outing by reviewing a copy of the resort’s Guidebook for Guests with Disabilities (Disney Hollywood Studios, 2012).
This booklet provides a detailed overview of the services and facilities available at each park for guests with disabilities, including information about parking, restrooms, auxiliary aids, telephones, transportation facilities, and specific attraction entrance and boarding procedures. There are many rides that allow a guest to remain in a wheelchair while experiencing the attraction while other attractions are transfer accessible. To ensure that guests with disabilities are greeted appropriately, all Disney cast members receive a three-segment disability awareness training.
The first is a part of mandatory new-hire classes 4 that teach about Disney heritage, philosophy, and company standards. This segment provides an overview of the services and resources available at the resort for guests with disabilities, establishes the company’s service philosophies and guidelines, and teaches disability etiquette concerning interaction and respect for people with disabilities. The second segment establishes the particular policies, resources, and services for guests with disabilities in that cast member’s particular business unit.
The last segment of the training covers the operating guidelines, services, and procedures specific to that cast member’s work location (Florida Grassroots Advocates, 2002). Technology available to enhance the park experience for guests with hearing disabilities includes pay phones equipped with amplified handsets and TTYs, video captioning or reflective captioning at many attractions, and assistive listening systems to amplify the audio at various attractions. In addition, Disney has developed an innovative system to provide synchronized captions via wireless technology at popular theme park attractions.
This service, which debuted in December of 2001, uses a handheld receiver to enable guests to read captions while enjoying specific theme park attractions where captioning was previously unattainable (Disney Hollywood Studios, 2012). New rides, shows, and other park features are constantly under review for accessibility. Continuously evaluating services and procedures so that all of their guests receive a magical and entertaining experience, there is a ride at The Magic Kingdom known as The Magic Carpets of Aladdin.
Disney Imagineers created a special carpet with a swing-out side and a drop-down back that provides ramped access inside the vehicle for guests using wheelchairs. This first-of-its-kind ride vehicle also includes a special control pendant so guests can manipulate the height and pitch movement of their carpet from their wheelchair (Walt Disney World, 2001). At present, Disney has professionals in the U. S. dedicated to the recruitment, retention and professional development of minority employees and Cast Members. They have also put into place a variety of mentoring, affinity and professional development programs with the same goals in mind.
Disney supports the development of unique, high-quality, and innovative business solutions to meet the evolving needs of a workforce, guests, and communities as the largest segment of their employee base. Their Cast, Crew and “Imagineers” view diversity and inclusion as key elements driving creativity, innovation and business growth (Iger, 2012. ) Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) is the design and development arm of the Walt Disney Company, responsible for the creation and construction of Disney theme parks, resorts, cruise ships, and other entertainment venues at all 5 levels of project development worldwide.
Founded by Walt Disney (the person? ) in 1952 to oversee the production of Disneyland Park, the term Imagineering, a portmanteau, was popularized in the 1940s to describe its blending of imagination and engineering, and adopted by Walt Disney (the company? ) a decade later to describe the skill set embodied by their employees, known as Imagineers. Imagineers possess a broad range of skills and talents, and thus over 140 different job titles fall under the banner of Imagineering, including illustrators, architects, engineers, lighting designers, show writers, graphic designers, and many more (Wright, 2005).
Disney has a well-defined diversity and inclusion infrastructure in place and engagement exists at all levels. All of their sites include a Diversity Leadership Advisory Board, comprised of executives from various lines of business, that act as a council to raise awareness and discuss issues, trends, and recommendations, to help enable diversity and inclusion strategies. Disney also has Diversity Resource Groups, who provide enrichment, awareness, and education to the organization, and who also provide valuable feedback and insight on products and services currently in development to business leaders.
Through consulting, talent sourcing, and cultural knowledge, the Global Strategies for Diversity & Inclusion Organization has established key partnerships with creative executives to help develop products, services, and experiences that resonate and have a relevant and emotional connection with guests globally (Farino, 2012). In addition, the ImagiNations Design Competition is a program to help identify talented students from our broad global audience.
The competition encourages students to form teams to showcase their storytelling, creative, and technical abilities by submitting a project for review by Imagineering judges. The reward is spending 10 days learning and working with Disney Imagineers. There are guest speakers and customized design-unique learning experiences that offer deeper awareness and knowledge about diversity and inclusion (Wright, 2005). Cast members with disabilities have access to a variety of services to help them fulfill their creative capabilities in working for Disney.
These include items such as additional wheelchair ramps, designated parking spaces, American Sign Language interpretation, power-assisted door openers, magnifiers for computer screens, screen reader software, and other assistive devices. In addition, Disney has an internal resource group that meets on a monthly basis. This group, called CastABLE (Cast, Appreciating, Supporting, Teaching Ability, Better Living, and Equality), is a Disney Diversity Resource Group promoting respect, equality, and appreciation of people with disabilities through awareness, education, and inclusion.
Part of their mission statement reads; “Our 6 understanding of the importance of a diverse business environment, coupled with our knowledge of a worldwide population of people with disabilities, will enhance the business diversity of our company” (Tully, 2009). In addition to Parks and Resorts, other Disney businesses have programs designed to build and strengthen diversity in the workplace. ABC and ESPN both have mentoring programs aimed at developing strong cross-functional connections within their organizations as well as strengthening the retention and promotion of promising employees.
Creative talent development is a major theme at ABC, ESPN and Walt Disney Studios (Silkos, 2009). Several initiatives are in place to help advance the careers of both on camera and production employees from diverse backgrounds. The Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship, for instance, takes applications from over 1,200 writers annually and selects ten of them for writing positions on television shows and movies. Disney also works closely with the National Hispanic Media Coalition and the Institute for American Indian Summer TV and Film Workshop to develop promising talent (Haugsted, 2008).
Disney appeals to broad audiences and reflects the diversity and multiculturalism of that worldwide audience. At the core, they believe that diversity of content is not just an issue for corporate responsibility, it is integral for positive growth and viability of the company. By casting a wide net, they are able to engage and remain relevant to a broader community of viewers. Additionally, a diversity of opinions and ideas enhances internal creativity and the company’s vitality (Dilts, 1995).
Disney approaches diversity in the workplace through a multifaceted strategy including selecting relevant content, incorporating diversity considerations when casting, expanding partnerships, targeting messages to reach a broader audience and expanding consumer knowledge through ongoing research and trend tracking (Farino, 2012). Movies released by Disney that have appealed to diverse audiences, incorporating Hispanic and African-American talent, include Step Up 2, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, College Road Trip, High School Musical 3: Senior Year and Miracle at St. Anna.
Characters of varied cultures and backgrounds are represented in Disney’s tribute to folklore such as Belle (French), Mulan (Chinese), Pocahontas (Native American), Lilo (Polynesian), Jasmine and Aladdin (Arabic) and Princess Tiana, the intelligent and beautiful African-American girl who dreams of starting her own business. These characters are embraced by consumers everywhere and have proven their broad appeal (Chemplavil, 2007). In television, diversity is approached in three principal ways: integrated and targeted content, talent 7 development and marketing to reach a broader audience.
A special emphasis is put on talent development with the belief that multicultural writers, directors and actors will organically reflect diversity in the content that is developed. Disney has introduced talent programs such as ABC/Disney writing fellowships, Directors Breakage and ABC Studio Production Assistants to help identify and cultivate talent in a more diverse workforce. ABC is a leading network representing diversity as recognized by the industry. In 2008, ABC picked up six ALMA awards for the promotion of fair, accurate and balanced portrayals of Latinos in the entertainment industry.
They received the highest score from the National Hispanic Media Coalition and shows on ABC networks have won several awards from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 2008 (NALIP, 2010). In addition to many outreach efforts and financial support to serve multicultural organizations, ESPN has been a leader in hiring commentators of varying ethnicities, in distributing programming that meets the different needs of its diverse fan base and in launching media outlets aimed at multicultural communities.
The ESPN Deportes brand and content, which are available through TV network, radio, print and online channels, serve U. S. Hispanic fans (Fraticelli, 2010). ESPN’s multimedia outlets not only spotlight and cover diverse athletes but also offer documentaries such as Black Magic, a widely acclaimed two-part series about African-American college basketball players breaking the color barrier and special events like the MEAC/SWAC Challenge featuring historically black college football teams (Sandomir, 2008).
Disney has stated that one area that represents great opportunity for improvement is diversity behind the camera. Shows such as Ugly Betty and Grey’s Anatomy represent good first steps, with Latino and African-American producers, directors and writers (Disney ABC Television Group, 2009). They have the opportunity to embed a multicultural point of view into the production process from writing, acting, directing and producing. This objective underscores the fundamental belief that a diverse production will produce a superior product and attract a greater audience.
Diversity is an important theme running though Disney TV programming. Shows incorporate many ethnicities, cultures, religions, geographic locales and physical and developmental differences, reflecting the world in which today’s children are growing up. For preschoolers, diversity takes the form of stories with characters who learn to value the differences they encounter in shape, size, color, gender and ability. For example, Handy Manny is a multicultural animated series centered on a Latino character that is designed to give 8 reschool viewers an enthusiasm to take on life’s challenges and to make things work, most notably via interpersonal relationships. Spanish words and phrases are used in real-world contexts (Ashby, 2012). Above all, Handy Manny is pre-school entertainment, with engaging stories, fun songs and positive lessons about community, friendship and problem solving making the lesson passively and effectively learned. Diversity also features prominently in Disney TV for 6 to 14-year-olds.
From the multicultural cast of High School Musical to The Cheetah Girls and Cory in the House, programming reflects people of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. While the programs often highlight themes of “Who am I? ” and “Where do I belong? ,” they also celebrate tolerance, getting along with others, and the wonderful mosaic that is created through diversity (Umstead, 2004). Disney also owns a publishing company called Disney Publishing Worldwide (DPW). DPW is the world’s largest publisher of children’s books and magazines.
It created the subdivision Jump at the Sun in 1998 with the mission of celebrating the rich diversity of African-American culture and history through books for children and teens of all races and cultures. Since its inception, Jump at the Sun has received many industry accolades and honors, including Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Awards and NAACP Image Awards (Hyperion Books for Children, 2006). Leading African-American authors and illustrators including Kadir Nelson, Toni Morrison, Whoopi Goldberg and Sharon G.
Flake have published best-selling and award winning books under the Jump at the Sun banner. Disney Publishing celebrates diversity in other ways as well through the Cheetah Girls novels and other publications that bring together characters of different backgrounds and ethnicities (Haugsted, 2008). Disney also views their supplier diversity as a strategic imperative and a critical part of an overall commitment to diversity and inclusion. Over the last few years, a steadily increasing number of minority and women-owned companies have won a greater market share of business from Disney.
Last year, with more than 5,000 minority- and women-owned businesses, Disney spent a record $428. 5 million, an increase of 13. 1% over the previous year. Increases in spending on professional and marketing/media services were the largest contributors to the change. Minority and women-owned businesses competed for, and won, some significant contracts at Disney and are now supporting effective operations of the Company. These include staffing agencies that provide temporary employees, a firm that links the many geographic areas of Disney by providing 9 onferencing technology, companies that provide post-production services for creative content and the foodservice company that supplies meals for cast members at Disneyland. They are now recognized as the travel and entertainment industry leader in this area. Today, supplier diversity considerations are woven into all phases of standard sourcing process for the billions of dollars in products and services that Disney contracts globally every year (Disney Corporate, n. d). Disney recognizes that ongoing efforts must be made to include diverse suppliers in sourcing activities.
A companywide Supplier Diversity and Sustainability team undertakes tasks of supporting sourcing teams to identify qualified diverse suppliers, developing and executing projects that position Disney to deliver increases in the volume of business contracted with diverse suppliers, and engaging with, and providing leadership and financial support to advocacy organizations that propagate “best practices” related to supplier diversity. Many of their sourcing professionals hold leadership positions in minority and women business organizations.
Last year, Disney was recognized as “Corporation of the Year” by the Women’s Business Enterprise Council West, the Southern California Minority Business Development Council and the Florida Minority Business Development Council and as “Entertainment Company of the Year” by the Greater Los Angeles African-American Chamber of Commerce (United Business Media, 2012. ) Their primary challenge continues to be difficulty in finding minority and women-owned enterprises large enough to provide for Disney’s global requirements.
The diversity of their businesses and geographical spread requires that suppliers be able to support many locations and different business priorities. While this is a challenge for all Disney suppliers, it can especially be difficult for smaller, privately-held businesses. The Supplier Diversity and Sourcing teams work closely with qualified diverse suppliers to ensure they understand and are able to comply with these requirements. In the public eye, opinions run the gamut. In 1999, as 16 unmasked KKK members rallied in the shadow of Foley Square, Nane Annan, wife of U. N.
Secretary General Kofi Annan, stood tall with Ariel, Mulan, Peter Pan, Captain Hook, Hercules, Jiminy Cricket and Pinocchio. They gathered on the United Nations Plaza in New York to call for international peace and unity. “We are all different,” said Annan, who is from Sweden. “I am two-legged and pale. Ariel is a mermaid and Baloo is a bear,”(Lewter, 1999. ) In commemoration of United Nations Day, the Disney characters presented a “Unity Star” and a time capsule to the U. N. to hold the wishes and dreams of the world’s children. Until the end of 1999, young visitors to the U. N. ere invited to write down their 10 wishes and place them into the capsule for future generations. On Dec. 31, 1999, the time capsule was sealed and locked away for 100 years. Ten years later, Jeff Simon writes an article that blasts Disney for taking so long to create the first full-length Disney animated cartoon with an African-American princess and center the whole tale in multicultural New Orleans. “Here at last, is a Disney animated feature that the current president’s children could look at and know that an effort was actually made to reflect everything they see in the mirror every morning.
All things being equal, the advertising and promotional push behind this movie should have been enough to rattle the rafters… it wasn’t. The movie simply isn’t very good” (Simon, 2009). Google “love-hate relationship with Disney” and you’ll get over 4 million hits. The articles range from “feminist diversity should not be limited to the Villains” to a diatribe by Ryan Gosling biting the proverbial hand that launched his career. In an interview, Catholic priest William T Cavanaugh states, My critique of Disney is not so much concerned with the content of its films and other media, though the content is certainly open to criticism.
My interest in Disney concerns its sheer power. Disney is an example of the way a few enormous corporations have the power to influence patterns of consumption and homogenize culture, even though the market is free. Millions of parents are stuck buying whatever Disney coughs up, because every other kid at school has Lion King or whatever other kind of merchandise (Christian Century, 2005). When it comes to diversity, once a company becomes as large as Disney, it becomes apparent that one can’t please everyone all of the time.
It is clear that Disney’s portrayals influence children’s developing beliefs and values. Unfortunately, research shows that many stereotypes that follow American cultural trends, based on gender, race, age, and sexual orientation have been portrayed by Disney. In an analysis of 16 animated Disney films, it was found that gender images have not evolved to match the changes that have occurred in society, but remain stereotypic and similar to the gender portrayals beginning in the first animated Disney film in 1937 (Wiersma, 2001).
A 30-year study of Disney television found women are underrepresented as compared to men . Approximately two-thirds of characters on television are male, a percentage that has stayed consistent since the 1950s. Women are more likely to be portrayed as younger and thinner than men. Less than one in 10 are even slightly overweight (Signorielli & Bacue, 1999). Most females on nighttime television are either under 35 or over 50; middle-aged 11 women are rarely represented. Females are consistently placed in situations where looks count more than brains and helpless and incompetent behaviors are expected.
Men are twice as likely as women to be shown as competent and able to solve problems. Gender stereotypes abound on television, with women depicted as sex objects more frequently than men, and men portrayed as inept when handling children’s needs (Witt, 2000). Men are shown as rational, ambitious, smart, competitive, powerful, stable, violent, and tolerant. Sixty-one percent of television programs contain some violence; 44% of the time, perpetrators are attractive, and in 75% of the cases, they received no immediate punishment for the crime (Smith & Donnerstein, 1998).
Until recently, depictions of families on television have been mostly White and middle class (Holtzman, 2000). While more people of color are shown on television today, it can be argued that diverse and accurate portrayals of these characters or cultures are rarely provided. Black sitcoms “are not Black in that they exhibit an African American world view or a Black philosophy of life. Rather, they are Black because the performers are Black” (Nelson, 1998). Currently, a trend exists where Black and White actors are shown working together in “buddy films. The buddy film embodies a new racism; Blacks are shown in successful middle-class roles, while the conditions of poor and working class Blacks are ignored. This imagery works to construct perceptions of harmonious race relations (Artz, 1998). Asians have been largely invisible in Disney media. When they are present, the many Asian cultures that have many different traditions and lifestyles are “collapsed” into one group. Asian males tend to be portrayed as either the evil martial arts expert or the non-sexualized, non-masculine male.
Asian females tend to be portrayed as attractive and submissive or as an overtly sexual exotic beauty. In battles between Whites and Asians, White guys typically win. Consistently they found that White men are portrayed as stronger and more intelligent than are Asian men (Holtzman, 2000). From 1955 to 1986, Latinos were represented in about two percent of Disney television portrayals and this trend continued into the 1990s. This low level of presence has remained, despite a nearly 100 percent increase in the Latino population in the United States (Rodriguez, 1997).
Early film images of Latinos show Mexican American bandits attacking White people. A later characterization was of the “Latin lover. ” Despite the stories of “hot romance,” however, the Latin lover was never allowed to succeed in interracial love relationships. In more current films, Latinos tend to be portrayed either as excessively violent or as rebels (Holtzman, 2000). Disney tends to celebrate youth, particularly in women. On television, women tend to be about four years younger than the men.
The proportion of women categorized as young adults was greater during the 1990s than in the 1970s and 1980s. These researchers also found that negative messages are associated with aging, especially for women. Men around the age of 65 are portrayed as having jobs and are more likely to be categorized as middle-aged, but women of the same age are portrayed as elderly and they do not continue to work outside the home (Signorielli & Bacue, 1999). Gays and lesbians comprised 2% of characters in the 1999-2000 television season, and most were cast in minor roles.
Although representations of gay characters are on the rise, these portrayals are almost exclusively White and male; lesbian and gay people of color remain largely invisible on television (GLAAD, 1999). In the early years of Disney film, portrayals of same-gender sexuality were prohibited, and so gay characters were not affectionate or open, but rather expressed their sexuality through exaggerated opposite-gendered behavior. In a negative stereotype that continues in film making but that is not borne out statistically, gay characters have been disproportionately portrayed as psychotics and killers.
However, some small strides have been made for gay portrayals in the 1990s (Gross, 2001). In an analysis of out-of-home employment, male Disney characters held a diversity of jobs, including miner, governor, salesman, chef, doctor, lawyer, sailor, space ranger, and musician. 26 male job categories across 16 Disney films compared to only four women who had out-of-home employment. Yet there are 24 examples of women performing domestic tasks and only four examples of men performing domestic labor–two of these were performed by the butler in Aristocats, and could also be considered as part of his job (Wiserma, 2001).
Pocahontas has some conflicting messages about gender. In many ways, Pocahontas is portrayed as a strong female character; however, at the end of the film, she follows a stereotypic female script. Pocahontas says she is needed at home, and the movie has a sad feeling, giving the sense she is staying out of duty to her community. It can be argued that if Pocahontas had been portrayed as staying at home out of choice–perhaps taking on a leadership role in the community–she would have appeared less role-constrained (Dundes, 2001).
Gender stereotyped images that are portrayed in Disney media have men’s control over and abuse of women shown as romanticized, as in Beauty and the Beast. In some cases, women may interpret abuse as a sign that their partner cares for them and as a sign that they have a powerful partner. In rewriting Beauty and the Beast 13 into an animated film, Disney “twists the original story from one of learning and understanding to one of falling in love, a very modern arrangement of romance stories” (Beres, 1999).
By identifying prominent themes related to the societal and familial organizing principles of gender, race, age, and sexual orientation in Disney films, Disney can help parents act as mediators, teaching children to critically analyze media messages. It can also help in working with children to better understand the kinds of messages children may potentially be using to make sense of themselves and their world. With all of their power, both perceived and real, Disney has the opportunity to be the game changer when it comes to portraying diversity in their media.
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