The delicate balance of roles at home and work

Estefania Villadiego – Disney World theme park worker, and member of Local 362 Unite Here! Union, Orlando, Florida

Article | Orlando, Florida | 29 December 2021
Estefania loves her work at Disney World where she has a chance to interact directly with visitors and provide them with once in a lifetime experience. Balancing her work life and family is the biggest challenge facing her and millions of other working wormen. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
“When I was growing up I never, ever thought that I would be working in a company like Disney,” says Estefania Villadiego, a theme park worker at Disney World, in Orlando, Florida. “I thought I would end up in diplomacy, working as a governor or something like that,” she adds with much excitement in her voice.

“I work in Magic Kingdom which is one the theme parks of Disney World in the area of attractions. I also work in Fantasyland which has popular iconic rides such as the Winnie the Pooh ride, the teacups ride, and Peter Pan,” she shares.

Villadiego who has been working at the park for 4 years describes a day at work for her as an 8-hour day with an early morning start.

“I opted to have my day start in the morning, so that I can drop my daughter off at school before coming to work and pick her up right after,” she says. “I open up the attractions in the morning, I manage the attractions, take care of the guests, greet them, help them with directions and any issues they may have. I have to be quick and work efficiently because we have so many people come to the parks every day, and we manage a big team,” she confidently notes.

Estefania first came to Disney as part of a work component for her college program in Colombia. The nine-month opportunity helped her develop many skills and an understanding of how the company works. “I studied International Relations in Colombia, with an emphasis on Political Science,” she enthusiastically discloses. “And as my practice, I had the option to work for a company in Colombia or come to Disney World.”

Local 362 provides training on key skills and issues to its members who represent a range of professions at Walt Disney World and Food Service workers in Central Florida. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
“I chose Disney so that I could also practice speaking English with people who actually speak English. I studied English me entire life, but I never had the opportunity to practice it, so coming here was very good.”

Education and hard work, she says were what her mother instilled in her from a very young age, which encouraged her appetite to learn. “My mom was a single mom raising three kids, and when I was younger we didn’t have much money. So my mom created her own company to be able to provide for our education. She worked very hard and saved money and she was able to send me to study in Argentina at one of the best universities, which I am so grateful for.”

Being a mother now to her 12 year old daughter, Estefania hopes to inspire her daughter and instill those same values. “My mom always told me the one thing that she can give me in life which would empower me is an education,” she emphasizes. “I always tell my daughter the same thing, and teach her the importance of being focused, studying hard, reading and being curious. I am always encouraging her to learn new things.”

“At the moment my daughter really loves science and I want her to pursue what she is passionate about as a profession, because then it will never be going into work every day, but another day for her to live her passion,” Estefania says with a big beaming smile.

Communications is the most important skill in creating better experiences for the customers at attractions and theme parks as well as improving the overall conditions and benefits at work. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
In discussing how her educational background comes into play in her current job, Estefania cites that it has also allowed her to work at Local 362 Unite Here! Union as an organizer. Local 362 represents those who work at Disney and other theme parks as well as food service workers in the central Florida area. Championing and advocating for causes that are important to people, helping people and service, is what she says she “has always felt a calling for.”

“Empathy is my gift. I am empathetic with people and it’s always easy for me to see things from others point of view, and to be in their shoes and understand how they are feeling,” she underscores.

For Villadiego, work means having an income to pay bills and provide for her daughter. She also says that both her work with the union and Disney give her a sense of purpose and achievement. She says that as a working woman and mother she feels that she often “has to choose between her family and professional growth.”

“It’s definitely a challenge for women and I sometimes feel like I have to choose between work or being at home. I constantly feel that if I do more in one area, then I do less in the other. But I’m grateful that I enjoy both my work at home and my work at my job,” she confesses with a determined voice.

Leading with her empathy, not being afraid to work and having goals are what has lead Estefania to work in her role at Disney and to be an active member and organizer of her union. Balancing her work duties with her role as a mother has definitely allowed her to practice her diplomacy and governing skills albeit in a different context from what she had pictured growing up.

“That was my dream and maybe I will get to work in that capacity in the near future. After all if I can rule my house, I can rule the world,” she proclaims with a confident laugh.