The Walt Disney Company, being of a progressive ideology, has set a standard for itself when offering equal opportunity to its many employees (Cast Members) and partners. They are a leader when it comes to offering advancement and opportunity for women at Disney.
Some consider the push by Disney to incorporate a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences as “woke.” In actuality, the diverse offerings of Walt Disney World and the company in general allow Disney to stay current, opening the door to new experiences and audiences.
Disney Animation Takes the Lead for Female Workers
Years ago, Walt Disney himself set a precedent for the role of women within his workforce. Although The Walt Disney Company would see its birth only three years after the 19th Amendment was ratified by Congress, granting women the right to vote, Walt would be a trailblazing hero for his animators, no matter their biological happenstance.
In the 1940s, while working on Dumbo, Walt Disney famously noted that no matter the gender of his animators, they would all be worth the same if they did the same job at the same level. “If a woman can do the work as well, she is worth as much as a man.”
Disney’s precedent of including working women within his studio as equal to men was a pioneering step in the right direction, as in some roles today, women still fight to gain similar wages as their male counterparts. However, there was still the perception of Disney classics and how they often portrayed their female leads to be reconciled.
A Shift From Princesses Who Need to be Saved
Empowering women has become a solid foundation of Disney storytelling. Although many of our Disney classics, such as Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, illustrate a strong female lead, often they needed to be saved by their proverbial knight in shining armor. Although there’s nothing wrong with men and women working together for a common goal like taking down an Evil Queen, the idea that women couldn’t achieve happiness without their Prince Charming has shifted in stories that Disney now tells.
Today, in Disney animation, female characters take a much more empowered lead in their own stories. Moana, Merida, Rapunzel, and even Minnie Mouse stand alone as entrepreneurs, heroes, and victors. They are the missing pieces that dictate their futures, not their male counterparts.
This evolution of female empowerment in Disney films has provided a fresh take on stories that have performed well when not made in live-action. It’s also become reflected in places like Walt Disney World, wherein you’ll find Disney Princesses carrying the heavy load of saving themselves in each of their four theme parks.
Disney’s History of Creative Women
The changes we’ve seen over the decades in Disney storytelling have lent itself to the screen and the workforce at Disney World. The Walt Disney Company is full of strong female Cast Members at every level, and Walt Disney World is no different.
Although it may seem as if women are only now coming to the forefront of Disney park culture, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Although Disney’s stories have taken decades to catch up, the truth is that women have been integral in the creation of Disney parks long before public outcry for equality in the workplace.
It seems that Disney understood early on that while the rest of the world was arguing that women can do the same thing as men, women actually possess a naturally occurring skillset that sets them apart from their male counterparts. Females and males think differently, and Walt Disney, while building his first park, Disneyland, used those perceptions to create something immortal in the eyes of Disney fans.
Famous women dot the landscape of Disney’s history. From Imagineering to acting, women have been a big part of Disney’s early success and so on. Contributing names like Adriana Caselotti, Harriet Burns, Leota Toombs, Alice Davis, and, of course, Mary Blair have all left their unique touch on the company, culminating in its massive theme park and entertainment success globally.
Walt Disney World Is Bringing Women Entrepreneurs Front and Center
Opening in 1971, Walt Disney World Resort has grown into a massive site filled with theme parks home to extremely popular and often timeless attractions like “it’s a small world”, Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean. Many of these rides migrated from their original home of Disneyland Resort in California, but they also share another common inheritance.
Women played a significant role in their design, implementation, and evaluation. As these rides, shows, and other attractions are still in operation today, women are still a major factor in ensuring their lasting legacy as they see thousands of park guests each day of operation.
However, outside of Imagineering, Disney World is seeing another way women display their formidable business prowess on their Florida property. Much like the rest of the United States, Disney World is seeing an uptick in women-owned enterprises around their property.
The Most Magical Place on Earth doesn’t just employ women; it freely offers them the opportunity to advance their businesses, especially at Disney Springs and Disney’s Boardwalk, where multiple women-led operations are making noise for Disney World guests.
Forbes magazine recently highlighted one of these businesses, The Cake Bake Shop, which is currently on its way to Walt Disney World. Owned by Gwendolyn Rogers, this new business will call the once ESPN Club at Disney’s Boardwalk home. Although it’ll be new to Disney World, The Cake Bake Shop will actually be Rogers’ third operation she’s put in motion.
Gwendolyn got her start from more than humble beginnings. As a mom, she began baking at home, but her gift of crafting beautifully designed desserts would only allow her to be noticed. She quickly outgrew her home, and the rest was history.
“I slowly built up a business, and I was working in my house, and the next thing you know I was outgrew my house, and it just became a bigger thing than I ever thought than it ever would be,” she says. “That’s how I knew I was onto something so good.
Other Female-Owned Disney Businesses
Although delays have kept Rogers’ shop from opening on time, she’s very optimistic about her 2024 opening schedule. As construction continues at Disney’s ESPN Club on her new enterprise, she had this to say regarding the delays, “I think that the best lessons in life are things that were really hard. But when it’s hard I smile through it, because I enjoy the process so much that I don’t mind, and it makes me a better person.”
Although The Cake Bake Shop is a much anticipated woman-led addition to Walt Disney World, it isn’t the first. Vivoli il Gelato, an Italian ice cream location, and Sugar Boo & Co, a sweet retreat featuring gourmet marshmallows, have already found great success at Disney Springs.
As well, new female-led businesses like Eet, the brainchild of Food Network star Maneet Chauhan, will be making its way to the Disney World shopping and entertainment district. The celebrity chef’s first Florida restaurant will take a brand new, fresh take on Indian food at Disney Springs.
Seeing women take control of their businesses at Walt Disney World is not only wonderful for further empowerment, but it also holds to the words of Walt Disney, “women are the best judge of anything we turn out.” In a time where our social norms and structures are changing rapidly, it’s refreshing to see women take charge and lead successful enterprises at the Most Magical Place on Earth.