Whitney Davis, a longtime CBS executive who left the company in February, has criticized CBS over its lack of diversity, detailing several specific examples of what she called racial discrimination and workplace misconduct.
She also criticized the independent investigation into the company’s workplace culture that followed accusations of sexual misconduct against former CEO Leslie Moonves, saying that investigators overlooked “systemic” racism and discrimination which she said she expected to change after the investigation.
“The company has a white problem across the board,” Davis said in an op-ed for Variety published Tuesday. “Did you know that there’s not one black creative executive working at CBS Television Network or CBS Television Studios?”
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Davis, who joined CBS News in 2006 and left as director of CBS Entertainment Diversity & Inclusion, went on to give examples of what she called workplace misconduct during her time at CBS. In one incident while she was at “CBS Evening News,” she said a co-worker said “My dad has f—ed black women, and he loved it.” She also said a senior producer for the broadcast “always wanted to touch my hair while sharing an inappropriate sexual joke.”
Davis said that many times she was passed over for promotions in favor of white colleagues. “Although I couldn’t confirm that my career had been sabotaged, I felt as though I had hit a glass ceiling working in news,” she said.
She also detailed an incident in 2009 where she said she was rebuffed after offering to travel to cover a story after two white male colleagues told then-national editor Bill Felling they couldn’t. She said Felling told her, “I’m not going to waste the company’s money for you to go there and fail.”
Davis added that a year later, when she met Felling again, he complimented her on her work and then “placed his hands on my shoulders, turned me around and asked what I had done differently to my hair.” She said she chose not to report any of the incidents to the company’s human resources department for fear of retaliation. (Felling could not be reached for comment.)
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In response to the op-ed, a CBS spokesperson said: “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,” the statement continued. “Employees are CBS’ most important resource, and providing them with a safe, fair, inclusive and positive work environment is paramount to our continued success.”
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In her first-person piece, Davis also portrayed CBS as a company that lacked a commitment to a diverse workplace. When she worked at the company’s Emerging Creative Leadership Experience division, Davis said she was often the only person of color in meetings. “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.”
She said that Peter Golden, the head of network casting and talent, often passed over minority actors in favor of white ones. “It is my opinion that Peter Golden doesn’t find minority performers to be as talented as white actors,” she said.
Golden denied that comment in a statement to TheWrap, saying: “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.”
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In the last year, CBS has fired multiple executives — including former CEO Moovnes and “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager — for sexual and workplace misconduct. Last year, CBS hired two law firms — Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Plimpton — to investigate the workplace culture at the company, but Davis said that the investigators never followed up when she told them about the discrimination within the company. The investigators’ report, which was never released publicly, was leaked to The New York Times.
“The leaked report emphasized sexual misconduct while failing to address the totality of problems at the corporation,” Davis said. “We should all be outraged that CBS has opted to ignore its rampant discrimination issues and lack of inclusion.”
Former CBS entertainment president Glenn Geller, who was also mentioned in the piece, added in a statement of his own:
“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.”