Former CBS executive Whitney Davis spoke out against the network Tuesday in a blistering op-ed in Variety, alleging she faced “a toxic work environment” in which sexual harassment, bias and outright racism went unaddressed.
Davis, who worked at CBS for more than a decade, starting in the news division and eventually managing CBS entertainment diversity and inclusion, said that what she witnessed and experienced on the job prompted her to reconsider her career. She ultimately left the company in February after finding investigators unresponsive to her complaints.
The corporation “has a white problem,” said Davis, who is black. She said that over the years, colleagues and supervisors at CBS confused her with other black employees, made inappropriate jokes and comments in her presence, dismissed her professional abilities and kept her from certain assignments and roles.
Davis also described a woeful lack of diversity at CBS, including when she was part of a two-year leadership program.
“From December 2011 through December 2013, I was mentored by execs in casting, drama development, daytime, current programming and marketing,” she said. “In every meeting I attended in those departments, I was the only black person and often the only person of color.”
She added that on one occasion, “an executive made an Aunt Jemima joke (if there is such a thing) in front of me and several colleagues.”
Prior to that instance, Davis noted that a co-worker’s use of a racial slur was simply brushed aside:
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?
Responding to Davis’ op-ed, CBS sent HuffPost a statement praising her work at the network, calling her “a valued team member” and noting her various career advancements.
“She was selected for a management-training program, promoted several times, and was given high-profile assignments,” CBS said.
Though the network said it disagreed “with some statements in Whitney’s story,” it said it has plans to “devote considerable resources” toward bettering company culture.
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 other CBS executives whom Davis accused of undervaluing the talents of people of color also issued statements to Variety in response to her account.
In September 2018, CBS’s former CEO Les Moonves left the company after he was accused of sexual misconduct that allegedly occurred both before and during his employment at the network.
In light of the scandal, CBS gave $20 million of the nixed payout to more than a dozen organizations fighting sexual harassment.