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Out at Taco Bell: How the brand is cultivating a culture that empowers LGBTQ+ employees and others to live authentically
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Published on June 27, 2021
Taco Bell is often at the forefront of what’s cool, like this new Taco Bell Cantina in New York’s bustling Time Square or the Taco Moon promotion inspired by a new lunar phase. But it’s not just fans who feel the love. Taco Bell works hard to create a fun and inclusive culture among its employees, too. And during summer 2019, that culture inspired one production designer to create an Employee Resource Group (ERG), whose reach extends down to restaurant team members, and even garnered the support of a celebrity drag queen.
It all started on the cusp of Pride Month 2019, when Taco Bell’s employee learning and development series “Season for Growth” was in full effect. As Robert Fisher, that aforementioned Taco Bell Design employee, looked across the Irvine, California, campus, he saw employees attending seminars on how to grow their careers, but he also noticed that something was missing.
“I realized we talked a lot about equality, but how do we put that talk into practice?” he wondered.
At the time, Taco Bell didn’t have ERGs and moreover, no group specifically dedicated to supporting the LGBTQ+ community, and Fisher spotted an opportunity to inspire others to live authentically — as he did — at work. “Since coming to Taco Bell, I just feel like I've found my people, like this is where I can be me,” he said. “Not only have I been able to be my most authentic self, but I've discovered that by doing that, I've been able to further enhance and grow my career.”
This freedom gave Fisher the courage to fully embrace being out at work, and in 2019, he reached out to Michael Maldonado, head of the Louisville campus’ LGBTQ+ ERG, Yum! Pride Network (YPN), for help.
“When Robert took the initiative to start an ERG in Irvine, I was thrilled to share knowledge and help in any way that I could,” said Maldonado, as YPN was the first such group in the Yum! system. “I understood that, for people who belong to underrepresented groups, the availability of an ERG can offer a space to feel seen and heard.”
Fisher says he did not want this to be seen as a “gay club,” so early on, he decided that the ERG would have a real impact by “educating, activating and advocating.” This realization set off a yearlong search as he reached out to other ERG leads, gathered a small group of supporters and began putting together plans for what would become Taco Bell’s first ERG and first group dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community: Live Más Pride.
“It's exciting to see, in such a short time, how quickly things can happen,” Fisher said. “It took a year to lead up to it, but once we got going, there's no stopping us. It's really exciting.”
Since its official launch at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the group has delivered programming that both pushed the envelope and gave refuge to LGBTQ+ employees, team members and allies looking for a community of their own. The first event LGBTQ+ 101, a virtual “Brunch & Learn,” was hosted by Taco Bell graphic designer Winston Elliott and Brandon Griewank, who answered employee questions and helped define terms like transgender, asexual, intersex and more.
Then came Drag Queen Storytime, featuring songs, stories and games for Taco Bell employees and their children. Fisher dressed as his drag persona, Judy Latuda, and was joined by a nationally recognized drag performer. “She said, ‘This is important. Let's do it, let's make it happen,’" Fisher recalled.
But the program that Fisher is most proud of is the online resource Live Más Pride created for LGBTQ+ Taco Bell restaurant team members to find health providers friendly to the community. Launched for National Coming Out day last October, the resource is now available to all Taco Bell team members at corporate-owned, U.S. restaurants and features emails, phone numbers and websites of agencies and clinics in all 50 states.
“Once Live Más Pride started gaining ground and word got out, we were getting messages from field team members, saying that they needed help,” he said. “They may feel safe within the company and within their team, but they just needed a little bit more information on how to find a doctor who would be willing to work with them, and that's something that most people don't have to question or deal with, but, unfortunately, that can be an issue for our community,” Fisher said.
Today, Taco Bell has five ERGs — Live Más Pride, Live Más T.A.A.C.O.S, which supports Black employees, Live Más CREAsians representing the Asian and Asian-American community, the Latinx employee-led Live Más L.U.C.H.A. and Womxn @ The Bell, which is advancing causes that empower women.
“I think having someone like Robert lit a fire,” said Elizabeth Plant, a communications analyst for Taco Bell and member of Live Más Pride. “Live Más Pride was the leader, and everybody looked up to them because they stepped out first.”
As Fisher looks forward to the next chapter of Live Más Pride and his journey with Taco Bell, he says he’s most excited about the opportunity for Live Más Pride to help position Taco Bell and Yum! Brands as a welcoming and inclusive environment with a culture that truly embraces our core value: Belief in All People.
“I want Joe Shmo or Jane Doe to see Taco Bell and know that ‘I can eat at Taco Bell because they care about their employees, customers and most of all, they care about equality and equity for everyone,’” he said. “I think that that's going to be really an important driving force.”
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