In the wake of a major independent investigation into CBS’s culture after the departure of former CEO Les Moonves—who was ousted after sexual misconduct allegations—one former executive described the network as “a workplace fraught with systemic racism, discrimination, and sexual harassment.”
In a post for Variety, former CBS exec Whitney Davis wrote about racism at the company, which she says stalled the development and careers of talented people of color and led to increased, isolating harassment. When she reported the issues in a lengthy two-hour interview to the two lawyers investigating CBS, there was no follow-up, she says. She realized “CBS, sadly, doesn’t value a diverse workplace.”
Davis also notes that, of the network’s 36 creative executives, only three are women of color (and none black). She describes how the exclusion of people of color at every level held her back professionally. She writes:
There were two black women working in production on the broadcast — myself and another. We both held the lowest-ranking positions on staff. Not uncommon in most predominantly white institutions, most of our white colleagues had trouble keeping our names straight. As a joke, they began to call us We-Dra — short for Whitney and 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. I don’t think most people understand just how demeaning these daily micro-aggressions are. Or maybe they do and don’t care.
One “CBS Evening News” senior producer always wanted to touch my hair while sharing an inappropriate sexual joke. Once again, I brushed this off as ignorance — not wanting to imperil my job — and kept pushing forward.
Reporting the incidents to HR felt futile, according to Davis:
For years I rolled with the punches. Then in late 2009, when a white female colleague used the N-word in my presence, I was outraged. I was advised to talk to a senior executive in the news division. Her response was to tell me that I should have thicker skin. I was speechless. Why would I go to HR to file a formal complaint if a senior executive would only tell me that I needed to be tougher?
Davis also alleges that Peter Golden, CBS’s head of network casting and talent, “doesn’t find minority performers to be as talented as white actors. She claims that Golden routinely passed over qualified actors of color for white actors. Golden told Variety that Davis’s claims about him are “categorically untrue.”
While diversity in Hollywood is slowly improving, representation of people of color is still lacking, especially behind the camera. According to UCLA’s 2019 Hollywood Diversity Report, only 12.6 percent of film writers and 7.8 percent of directors are minorities. CBS responded with a statement saying that “strengthening our culture” is “a top priority” at the company.
Davis, who spent more than a decade at the company, ultimately left CBS. “In late July I took medical leave for what I initially thought was anxiety and stress from postpartum depression,” she wrote. “I’ve since learned that the source of my anxiety and stress was CBS’s toxic work environment.” Davis’s letter is a call to action: it’s not enough to condemn sexual assault and harassment. Company policies need to address and root out racism and discrimination.