A chat with Disney’s diversity champion about Gay Days

By : Kirk Hartlage
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While Gay Day at Walt Disney World has always been an “unofficial” event at the resort, what has become official is The Disney Company’s increased commitment to diversity.

The Mouse House’s efforts in establishing and maintaining corporate leadership and an employee base representative of the diverse communities it serves has not gone unnoticed. The Walt Disney Company is currently ranked one of the Top 50 Companies for Diversity by DiversityInc, a media group dedicated to promoting the business value of diversity-management initiatives.

Closer to home, the Human Rights Campaign recently awarded Disney a perfect score of 100 in its most recent Corporate Equality Index. Disney received top marks for its employment benefits for workers and their spouses/partners, as well as offering transgender-inclusive health insurance. Also considered in HRC’s scoring system is a company’s public commitment to, and responsible citizenship towards, its LGBT employees.

Walt Disney World employees, or “cast members” in Disney-speak, are encouraged to participate in the company’s Diversity Resource Groups. The clubs focus on individual populations represented in Disney’s workforce. And while becoming involved can certainly provide an employee benefits, Disney considers these groups more of an employee resource, much like training opportunities and information shared on the company’s intranet, that can be useful both on the job and in life.

Disney’s Diversity Resource Groups include: CastABLE, focused on differently-abled cast members and their allies; HOLA, which promotes Hispanic/Latino heritage; PULSE, dedicated to the development of cast members of African descent; FAMILIES, for parents, caregivers, potential parents and those impacted by parental interests in the workplace; VINTAGE, for older cast members; and PRIDE (People Respecting Individual Diversities in Everyone), which provides resources, learning opportunities and a supportive network to gay, lesbian and ally cast members.

One of the PRIDE group’s biggest endeavors was in creating a “It Gets Better” video as part of The Trevor Project’s campaign against bullying. Released in December, 2011, the video opens with then-Disneyland Resort President George Kalogridis addressing “anyone who has ever been bullied, teased, or harassed for being different.” Kalogridis was recently appointed president of Walt Disney World, overseeing its 66,000 cast members. By becoming the most powerful gay man in Central Florida, Kalogridis has created a newfound interest in the company’s LGBT employee group-not only by cast members both gay and straight, but also by outsiders, like us, as well.

DisneyPrideTo learn more about Disney’s PRIDE group, we spoke to the group’s executive champion, Michael Jungen. As a director of experience development, Jungen’s primary role with Disney finds him utilizing emerging technologies to enhance guests’ experiences. In his “extra-curricular” role as the PRIDE executive champion, Jungen provides support and guidance to the group, helping the group form relationships within the company while encouraging Disney’s various departments to use the group as a business resource.

Speaking to us by email, Jungen explained the role Disney’s LGBT employee group serves in the company’s corporate philosophies, why workplace inclusivity is important, and how the PRIDE group plans to participate in this year’s Gay Days Weekend.

WATERMARK: What type of resources does the PRIDE group offer to cast members-both LGBT and non?
MICHAEL JUNGEN: The resources PRIDE provides are focused on helping every Cast Member be their authentic self at work and in our community. We’ve given Cast Members opportunities to learn about the LGBT community, advocate, be allies and pursue career development opportunities.

In addition to meetings, volunteer projects and networking events, we provide resources to Cast on our intranet, which helps us grow and strengthen our support network. We also do projects with the other Diversity Resource Groups at Walt Disney World, which represent the diversity of our Cast and the Central Florida community. The most recent example is the AIDS Walk Orlando.

Disney always has a strong presence at Orlando’s annual Come Out With Pride festivities each October. In what ways does the PRIDE group participate in that involvement and why is it important for Disney to have such a significant presence at such events?
Our Cast Members are an important part of the fabric of all aspects of our community. The Come Out With Pride parade and festivities highlight the diversity and richness of Central Florida and Disney is proud to celebrate alongside our fellow residents and businesses. Participating in the parade and volunteering at the KidZone, which Disney often sponsors, are highlights of the event for our Cast.

What type of presence does the PRIDE group have within WDW, and in Central Florida, beyond Come Out With Pride?
Within Walt Disney World, PRIDE has a full calendar of opportunities for Cast Members, including guest speakers, networking events, volunteer activities with groups like the Orlando Youth Alliance and Zebra Coalition, and, of course, just-for-fun outings. We also use our intranet site to share information and resources with Cast Members. PRIDE also helps the company by informing work on inclusive products and services.

Why is it important for a company like Disney to offer and support a LGBT employee group?
Our Diversity Resource Groups, including PRIDE, help Walt Disney World by supporting and encouraging diversity and inclusion for our Cast and guests. We are able to work as partners with the company on guest service, products and community involvement.

Talk about the membership of PRIDE. How many cast members are involved, is it strictly for management or are hourly/seasonal employees invited to participate as well?
PRIDE currently has over 500 members in Central Florida, including members from Walt Disney World Resort, Walt Disney Imagineering and Disney Cruise Line. All of our Cast, Crew and Imagineers at all levels are invited to participate in PRIDE.

Last year the PRIDE group participated in a flash mob at the Friday night “Riptide” event at Typhoon Lagoon. How did that come about, and how might the PRIDE group be participating in this year’s Gay Days Weekend?
The PRIDE Leadership Team was approached by organizers of the Riptide event at Typhoon Lagoon with the flash mob idea.  As part of PRIDE’s focus on Cast Member and community engagement, the leadership team thought this was a great way for members of PRIDE and ally Cast Members to be actively engaged in this great annual Gay Days Weekend event.  This year, PRIDE members will be volunteering to assist the Orlando Youth Alliance in providing information about the organization to event Guests.

Disney is a global company. Are there similar PRIDE groups throughout the Disney properties? And, if so, how might WDW’s PRIDE group work/network with these other groups?
There are diversity resource groups throughout the company and PRIDE is the name of the LGBT groups within Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Other divisions use different names, for example EQUAL at ESPN, which supports the LGBT and ally community.

The PRIDE groups at Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort have worked together on multiple projects, including a workshop presented at the 2012 Out and Equal Workplace Summit and the development of Disney’s “It Gets Better” video.

How did you personally become involved with the PRIDE group and why?
I first joined PRIDE in 1990 when I was an hourly Cast Member working in horticulture at our on-property tree farm. At that time, PRIDE was a Disney club; Diversity Resource Groups were established later. I joined because I wanted to make contact with other LGBT Cast Members and to learn how other gay Cast Members were engaged in the company. A lot has changed since that time!  PRIDE, along with the other resource groups, is now an important part of the formula for organizational growth and business success at Disney. I’m proud of the work we’ve done over the years to promote diversity and inclusion at Walt Disney World and contribute to our community.

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