CBS Exec Blasts Toxic Culture at Network in Explosive Letter

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In an article on Variety, former CBS Director of Entertainment Diversity and Inclusion Whitney Davis recounts an investigation that leads her to eventually quit her job.

Whitney Davis starts off by talking about a sexual-misconduct investigation with allegations against then CEO Leslie Moonves. Davis spent many hours with lawyers from the two law firms that we conducting the investigation and told her experience in hopes of shedding light on the diversity in CBS’s workplace. In the heart-wrenching two-hour interview, she talked about a workplace fraught with systemic racism, discrimination, and sexual harassment. After waiting for a follow-up Davis called the investigation hotline and was told via a recorded message that the inquiry was closed.

Davis discusses that the company has a white problem across the board. CBS doesn’t have one black creative executive working at CBS Television Network or CBS Television Studios. Out of all the network’s 36 creative executives – all upper management roles that deal with content development, casting, current production, daytime, and alternative programming — there are only three women of color, none black. There is not one executive of color working in casting at CBS. The one Latinx executive hired in casting last year lasted eight months and now works at Netflix.

Davis first started working in an entry-level position at CBS after college with the “CBS Evening News”. Many times she was confused with the other Black woman working there, Deidra. “In every job I’ve had at CBS, co-workers have confused me with other black women in the office, as if we’re interchangeable.” A lot of harassment and sexual jokes made towards her by senior employees went unchecked because she didn’t want to lose her job.

In 2009, Whitney tells of when a white female colleague used the N-word in her presence. She was advised to talk to a senior executive in the news division. Her response was to have thicker skin.

In the summer of 2011, Whitney was one of three employees accepted to CBS’ newly launched Emerging Creative Leadership Experience — a two-year program that identifies and develops future creative executives at CBS Entertainment.

From December 2011 through December 2013, she was mentored by execs in casting, drama development, daytime, current programming, and marketing. In every meeting she attended in those departments, she was the only black person and often the only person of color. Nothing had prepared her for the lack of diversity she encountered in the entertainment division. In fact, there was not one black creative executive at the network. Today, the only black female executive at CBS Entertainment oversees diversity and inclusion.

At the completion of the program, she was promoted to manager of CBS Entertainment Diversity and Inclusion — an important department that creates opportunites for emerging talent in front of and behind the camera, but a non-creative role. During her time in Diversity and Inclusion, Whitney and her boss were the only black CBS Entertainment executives.

In 2016, CBS announced the CBS Drama Diversity Casting Initiative in response to the backlash received about its nearly all-white programming. Casting execs searched the nation for fresh talent, selecting 12 performers of color. The actors came to L.A. for a week of workshops, meetings, and studio-shot screen tests.

In late July, Davis took a medical leave and found the source of her anxiety and stress was from the toxic work environment she was in. She hired a lawyer and decided not to silence her voice and that her integrity, voice, and experience were worth more than the money CBS was offering.

Whitney hopes that her story is a cautionary tale for companies to value the talent and contributions of people of color and those from marginalized communities in the workplace. A diverse workforce is an asset to any company — we make you stronger and more profitable. Davis hopes to make create a lasting change in the industry.

A CBS spokesperson has responded to the claims made in Whitney Davis’ letter:

“During her time at CBS, Whitney was a valued team member of the News and Entertainment divisions. She was selected for a management-training program, promoted several times, and was given high-profile assignments. While we disagree with some statements in Whitney’s story, we take all employee concerns seriously and remain committed to improving the workplace experience for everyone.

“CBS leadership has made strengthening our culture a top priority. Over the past several months, we have announced plans to devote considerable resources to critical areas such as ethics, compliance, diversity and inclusion, and human resources, including creating a centralized employee relations function to respond to workplace issues. Employees are CBS’ most important resource, and providing them with a safe, fair, inclusive and positive work environment is paramount to our continued success.”

Two independent responses from Glenn Geller and Peter Golden.

From Glenn Geller:

“I have personally been a champion of diversity at CBS, both in front of and behind the camera. For well over a decade, I worked closely with both the writers program and the Directing Initiative. But I am most proud of my involvement with the Drama Diversity Casting Initiative. I conceived, spearheaded and shepherded the program, and was intimately involved every step of the way — from helping choose audition sides to set visits during the actors’ screen tests. For the record, I wanted to make deals with several actors. Ultimately, everyone has a boss who has the final word, and I was no exception.”

From Peter Golden:

“The claims and innuendos made about me by Ms. Davis are categorically untrue. Approximately eight years ago, Ms. Davis was a trainee in my department for the customary three- to -four-month period provided under CBS’ management training program. While it is certainly possible that I may have reviewed headshots in front of Ms. Davis, her claim that I systematically dismissed diverse actors is patently false. In addition, and contrary to her assertions, the Comedy Diversity Showcase has resulted in numerous guest and series regular roles on CBS shows for the participants. Throughout my career in casting, I have always been a vigorous advocate for all actors. Ms. Davis’ implications are completely contrary to who I am personally and professionally.”