Grapes on the Beach: How Abigail Disney Took a Swing at Accountability and Missed

Jules Penham

April 28, 2021

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Last week, Abigail Disney, granddaughter of Walt Disney, made headlines when criticism of her company Level Forward erupted among past employees (first covered by The Hollywood Reporter). Their shared sentiment: although Level Forward was founded to address workplace inequality and back inclusive projects, the internal treatment of its staff did not reflect its professed values, especially for women of color. In response to the allegations, Disney gave the following statement: "I could be on the beach eating grapes. I could worry about being called a hypocrite and a liar. I choose to do what is harder and scarier, which is to keep going forward."

Tracie Dean Ponder, the Founder of B~STEM Project, worked with Level Forward for 11 months building an online platform to facilitate job search and networking in the entertainment industry. After her interview with THR, Ponder agreed to continue the conversation with WITI, and will also be featured as the main guest in a 3-part series this May 2021. She says that Disney's self portraiture of martyrdom "epitomizes white privilege," and lacks accountability. When being anti-racist sounds like "an option not an obligation," Ponder points out, "a complete lack of awareness, ownership and understanding" is demonstrated.

In working towards social equity, Ponder says "a sense of obligation to redress the egregious actions perpetrated against one group for the benefit of another is the starting point for being accountable, and that this is the pathway to justice." In alignment with WITI, Ponder believes that authenticity in operation and mission is valuable risk management. We see consistently that social progress happens only when equity is woven into a company's overall strategy, as well as its mission and executive functions. The progress sustains through a personal commitment by individuals in the organization's leadership to act inclusively.

Ponder questioned Disney's positioning of Level Forward as a start-up with inadequate resources to handle HR concerns, which confines the practice of ensuring equal treatment to one department. This delegation also carries responsibility away from the company's leaders, "as if there is this inanimate culprit called company culture." Instead, she says, leaders should ensure that equity is inherent to the success of the organization, especially in enterprises that claim to be for public good. Ponder says: "if you think otherwise, it's better for everyone involved that you are in-fact ‘on the beach eating grapes.'"

This May, WITI is hosting a 3-part series on Clubhouse exploring three critical points illuminated by the expose of Level Forward. Co-facilitated by Melissa Perkins, CEO of Blue Star Virtual Learning and Jules Penham (myself), this audience-interactive roundtable discussion features guest speaker Tracie Dean Ponder and explores accountability in organizations. The series will review data that describes the shift towards inclusivity in workplace culture, and discuss the benefits of taking action to reinforce it.

No More Talk: Holding Businesses Accountable

Option vs. Obligation - Saturday May 15th, 11 am PST/2 pm EST: Register Here

Equity as Intrinsic to Success - Saturday, May 22nd, 11 am PST/2 pm EST: Register Here

Navigating Accountability - Saturday May 29th, 11 am PST/2 pm EST: Register Here

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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