By: David Fikes, Executive Director, FMI Foundation

DEI Blog ImageI am constantly amazed at the power of invigorating conversation. In a world frequently filled with tepid exchanges and mundane interactions, it is a joy when gifted with an encounter that challenges, inspires and opens our eyes because it is authentic, vulnerable and filled with wisdom. These honest exchanges make us feel more alive.

I had that experience last week when — on behalf of the FMI DEI committee — I got to interview Mr. Stephen Leach, Director of Inclusive Content and Engagement, Disney Entertainment/National Geographic. Leach has worked in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion space across several industries including food, hospitality, education and now entertainment. His wealth and diversity of experience, coupled with his winsome personality, made it a joy to probe his thinking about several thorny DEI issues.

Disney's Proactive Approach to DEI

Addressing the conscious, subconscious and even unconscious racism prevalent in America's past without denying, ignoring or rewriting it has been — and continues to be challenging. During Leach's tenure, the Disney team has done great work in acknowledging problematic historical representations of people of different races and cultural identities. When asked how the Disney team approached and executed this, Leach shared that they tackled it relationally and structurally. They worked on inter-staff relationships and saw the necessity of having team members representing DEI concerns assigned across multiple departments to ensure each step of a film's production was handled with sensitivity. It also meant revisiting earlier films and including acknowledgments that they were not handled with current sensitivities now prevalent. He pointed out that it is far easier to make a correction early at the initial creative stages than having to make script revisions, retape and then reanimate sequences. Catching an insensitive misstep early is crucial because if it is not caught in time, fixing it becomes economically challenging, if not impossible.

Stephen Leach

Leach acknowledged that measurement is important if we're striving for improvement, but also agreed that DEI metrics are complicated because it is such an emotional, socially-charged issue that no one wants coldly driven by numbers and quotas. Drawing upon his diverse experience, Leach was able to share some of the ways he's been able to balance ROI expectations with the "but it’s the right thing to do" mentality, which sometimes necessitated using third-party auditing groups for content assessment.

Our conversation then turned to how, politically speaking, this is a very sensitive time to be addressing DEI concerns — with some major news agencies talking about a diminishing corporate focus on it and the Supreme Court's recent Affirmative Action ruling causing everyone in the corporate office to pause and take a legal look at organizational DEI programs. Leach shared some practical tips for how DEI professionals can keep company programs strong.

Leach closed out our conversation speaking candidly about how becoming a father, strengthened his commitment to DEI issues and offered the best advise his three kids offer him.

To hear his kids' best career advice and all of the insights from my chat with Stephen Leach, the conversation was recorded and can be accessed at

Watch the Recording    DEI Resources