Former Executive Calls Out CBS for their ‘White Problem’

A former CBS executive published a scathing letter attacking the network’s toxic environment and blaming its “white problem” for her decision to leave the company. In a piece for Variety, Whitney Davis described how an investigation into the alleged misconduct by then-CEO Leslie Moonves forced her to reconsider her career at CBS. She also noted several instances of systemic racism, discrimination, and sexual harassment. When investigators failed to follow up after interviewing her, Davis realized that she had long ignored the fact that “CBS has a white problem.”

“The company has a white problem across the board,” Davis wrote. She noted that there are no Black creative executives at CBS Television Network or CBS Television Studios. Of the network’s 36 creative executives, only three are women of color, and none are Black, Davis noted.

The lack of diversity in Hollywood and the media as a whole is not surprising. A study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found that people of color and women are severely underrepresented in film and TV. The report found women have made some progress, but only accounted for 6.9 percent of film directors and 13.8 percent of film writers in 2016.

Davis worked at CBS for 13 years, working her way up from an entry-level role at the “CBS Evening News” weekend edition. At several points in her career, Davis said she dealt with inappropriate, racist, and sexist comments from colleagues and superiors. She never complained.

“Like many women who experience workplace harassment and inappropriate behavior, I didn’t want to lose my job if I complained,” she wrote. When a white female colleague used the n-word in her presence, Davis said she spoke to a senior executive in the news division who said she should have “thicker skin.” In 2011, Davis was chosen for the network’s Emerging Creative Leadership Experience, a two-year program that trains future creative executives at CBS Entertainment. She noted that she was the only Black person and often the only person of color.

“Nothing had prepared me for the lack of diversity I encountered in the entertainment division,” she wrote. Davis said she noticed that the “overwhelming majority of creators, producers and hired writers on CBS series were white and male.”

After the two year program, Davis was not offered a creative position within the network. She was, however, promoted to manager of CBS Entertainment Diversity & Inclusion. During her tenure at CBS, Davis helped produce the annual “CBS Diversity Sketch Comedy Showcase,” a program that has kickstarted the careers of comedians such as Kate McKinnon, Tiffany Haddish, and Hasan Minhaj, but not at CBS. “It is my opinion that Peter Golden doesn’t find minority performers to be as talented as white actors,” she wrote.

In a statement provided to The North Star, CBS said “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.” The statement continued, “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 top priority.” The company said that in the last several months, it had announced plans to dedicate “considerable resources to critical areas such as ethics, compliance, diversity and inclusion, and human resources.”

Davis noted that she debated speaking out about her experiences at the network, adding that she has not forgotten the opportunities she was given. “But it’s just not enough to open doors to diverse, talented candidates,” she wrote. “We need to be respected, promoted and compensated on the same level as our white peers.”

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.