Disney CEO’s Florida-Law Handling Just Plain Goofy
Disney’s Florida adventure over a controversial piece of legislation shows just how hard hot-button political and social issues can be for companies — an urgent crisis challenge of our time. Alas, Disney and its CEO haven’t handled it well, which should be a wake-up call for the unwoke.
The flap concerns the Parental Rights in Education bill, which would ban discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida schools through the third grade and possibly higher. Critics call it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It passed in the house and then senate, but the governor hasn’t yet signed it.
Disney was under pressure to take a position: Its theme park near Orlando makes it one of Florida’s major employers, and many of its workers are from the LGBTQ+ community. Yet, it has also contributed to politicians who support the measure.
Disney CEO Bob Chapek flip-flopped and so now finds himself in a tough spot, caught between liberal and conservative activists and politicians. A Wall Street Journal headline: “Disney CEO Tried to Avoid Politics, Now Finds Himself in Middle of Partisan Spat.”
Here’s how it unfolded last week.
On March 7, Chapek said corporate statements against such legislation don’t accomplish much, and so the company wouldn’t get publicly involved. That didn’t go over well, especially with employees.
The next day, the bill passed in the senate and, as luck would have it, the next day was Disney’s shareholders meeting, much of which was taken up with its stance on the legislation. In what must have been planned, Chapek “reversed course,” as the WSJ put it, and said the company always opposed the measure, but had decided to work against it behind the scenes.
That also didn’t go over well. Just to show how much: Chapek said Disney would donate $5 million to LGBTQ+ groups, but a prominent one, Human Rights Campaign, said it would spurn any charity from the company. Ouch.
The issue wasn’t going away. On March 11, Chapek wrote a letter to employees, which was made public. The CEO said Disney would halt its political giving until it finds a method “that will ensure our advocacy better reflects our values.” He noted employees’ “sadness over the company’s response to the” bill and said talking with workers has “helped me better understand how painful our silence was.”
The missive was also a mea culpa: “You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down.” The employees weren’t placated and have now called for walkouts.
One angle to the story is that, while Chapek has been CEO since February 2020, he was overshadowed by executive chairman Robert Iger until Iger left late last year. Iger was more the face of the company and more open to supporting progressive causes. Comparisons to Chapek haven’t been good. Now many people are calling for him to be fired.
Photo Credit: Disney
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