Disney CEO Bob Chapek Works to Mend Fences With Employees at Companywide Meeting

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Chief Executive Bob Chapek told employees Monday that the company made a mistake by not taking a public stance against Florida’s recently passed Parental Rights in Education bill, a decision which infuriated many at the entertainment giant and has undercut faith in his leadership.

In a hastily scheduled virtual town hall meeting with Disney leadership and employees, Mr. Chapek said he understood the pain the company’s initial silence on the bill—dubbed by opponents as “Don’t Say Gay”—has caused, according to people who attended the event

“I and the leadership team are determined to use this moment as a catalyst for more meaningful and lasting change,” Mr. Chapek said at the opening of the meeting.

The Monday meeting comes one day before a planned walkout scheduled last week as part of an employee protest against Mr. Chapek’s leadership.

The company said it would be aggressive in opposing an effort by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to have the state investigate parents for possible child-abuse charges if their transgender children receive hormone blockers or other medical treatments. A state judge has temporarily blocked the governor’s order.

Disney also said it was creating a companywide task force to develop action plans to make more LGBT-aware content for children and family, the people at the meeting said. Film executive Paul Roeder and Disney Parks marketing executive Lisa Becket will oversee the effort, the company said.

Mr. Chapek and other senior leaders said they would also do a global listening tour of employees.

This is the latest attempt by Mr. Chapek to quell unrest inside the company that took off two weeks ago when he sent a companywide memo to explain why he chose not to issue any public statements against the Florida legislation, which he has said the company tried to defeat behind the scenes.

Walt Disney Co CEO Bob Chapek.


Photo:

KATHERINE TAYLOR/REUTERS

Mr. Chapek’s memo was heavily criticized by many company insiders as being tone deaf to employees who wanted Disney to make a stronger public statement in opposition to the bill. Several senior Disney executives sent their own separate memos reassuring their staff that the company believes in inclusivity and diversity and was against the Florida legislation.

The Florida bill prohibits instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten to third grade and in later grades if not “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill soon.

After Mr. Chapek’s original memo about the Florida bill, employees and members of the creative community began to attack Mr. Chapek’s strategy. The chief executive then began an about-face from his initial stance, and on March 11 sent another letter to staff saying, “You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”

Write to Joe Flint at joe.flint@wsj.com

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