TV executive Whitney Davis shares how she launched her career at CBS

Twenty Ten Talent - Whitney Davis CBS

Whitney Davis is the Manager of Entertainment Diversity at CBS Entertainment in Studio City, Los Angeles.

CBS Entertainment Diversity works to diversify the landscape of the entertainment industry by increasing the representation of diverse talent both in front of and behind the camera. Whitney manages several programs in the CBS Diversity Institute including CBS On Tour, CBS Diversity Writers Mentor Program, DGA Directors Program, and the wildly successful CBS Diversity Sketch Comedy Showcase. She also serves as a liaison between CBS Entertainment and its affiliate diversity coalitions.

Prior to her current role, Whitney was one of three selected to participate in the pilot class of The Emerging Creative Leadership Experience — a rigorous two year program initiated to identify and develop new leaders at CBS Entertainment. Davis began her career at CBS as a Page in August 2006. She worked her way up to become a Digital Journalist and Associate Producer for the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley, The CBS Early Show, and covering a wide range of major news events including the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the shooting of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Whitney talks to us about how she chose her major at Kansas State University and how maintaining connections helped her land her first big career break in television.

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CBS Entertainment Diversity works with creative executives, content creators, our diverse coalition partners and the community at large to make CBS programming inclusive and reflective of the world we live in, both in front of the camera and behind the camera.

I had no idea what I wanted to do. I thought I was going to be a physician, but I’ve always been obsessed with television and current events. After graduating from high school in 2001 I deferred college to experience the real world. I quickly realized that I’d made a huge mistake and moved back home to get my life together. By then, I knew I wasn’t cut out for medical school.

I was accepted into Wichita State University, which is literally across the street from the house I grew up in. One day in an intro to public speaking class something just clicked, I really loved communicating information to people and I made the decision that I wanted to pursue journalism.

After my first semester I was accepted into Kansas State University and lo and behold, they had a journalism school. It was confirmation for me that I was on the right path. I graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in Broadcast Journalism in 2006.

I was blessed to get an internship at CBS News in New York my junior year of college. That began my CBS journey.

I graduated from Kansas State in May 2006 and two months later I packed my two-door Honda and moved to New York. My advice to anyone reading is to keep in touch with the mentors you meet during your internship. When I landed in New York a mentor I’d kept in touch with at CBS reached out to about an opening in the Page Program. I went in for the interview, got hired on the spot and started on that very day, no lie—it was surreal. From there I was hired full time and I worked my way up to Associate Producer covering breaking news events in field for the network.

About 4 years into my career, I began to feel like I wanted to pursue a career in entertainment. While I loved my job in news, I didn’t enjoy the type of travel that a career in breaking news requires. One day while I was covering a wildfire in Arizona, Leslie Moonves, Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer of CBS Corporation, sent a company-wide email announcing a two-year pilot program to develop up and coming talent to become the future executives of the entertainment industry. I was so busy covering the fire that I deleted the email. Luckily for me, the next day, one of my mentors emailed me to ask if I’d seen the email and said I’d be perfect for the opportunity. I applied and 6 months later after an extensive application process, I got accepted into the program along with two other colleagues.

As a part of the program, we were assigned mentors. I was blessed to be mentored by my current boss, Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, Executive Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion & Communications at CBS. I was blessed to meet this phenomenal woman of color making her mark on the industry. It was so much of what I needed to see at that point in my career. I gravitated towards the amazing work Tiffany was doing during my rotations.

At the end of the two-year program, my current position was created for me and I’ve now been in the department for two and a half years. I will celebrate my 10-year anniversary at CBS in August. I’ve been incredibly, incredibly blessed.

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I’m all over the place! Because I trained as a journalist I have to have that constant fast paced, deadline oriented environment. I prefer to work on several different projects at one time. I’m always responding to emails, setting up events and programs, reading material to provide feedback to emerging writers, meeting with up-and-coming talent…you name it. No one day is the same.

We’re currently in pre-production for our annual Diversity Sketch Comedy Showcase. Late summer CBS Entertainment Diversity and our casting executives will see over 3,000 auditions and we’ll read 100-plus sketch packets written by emerging comedy writers. In early September we will select participants for next year’s showcase.

We are always working in the community to provide exposure, access and opportunity to students and emerging talent in the industry. Like my boss says, “Each one, teach one.” It’s all about leveling the playing field.

I’m also working with colleges and universities to schedule campus visits as a part of our CBS On Tour program. In 2011, my boss created CBS On Tour, a community outreach program that takes CBS execs out of the office and on to college campuses to expose students to internships and careers in the industry.

As a former CBS intern, this program means so much to me. Though this program we are able to meet with the future of Hollywood. We are providing resources and opportunities to future executives, showrunners and content creators.

I’ve had amazing women in my personal and professional life who have poured in to me. A former boss and mentor, Eleanore Vega at CBS News, taught me that I should never complain about being tired and to never let anyone see me cry at work.

My current boss, Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, shares nuggets of advice daily. I have learned so much from her leadership. She is relentless in her pursuit to change the entertainment Industry. She always encourages me to speak up! It’s the notion of being present in a room and speaking my truth. If I don’t open my mouth, then I’m not a part of the conversation. Without being a part of the conversation, I can’t be a part of the change—I want to be a part of the change happening in Hollywood.

My greatest inspiration comes from my faith in Christ, my loving husband Edwin and my family.

Do your homework first and foremost. Be able to effectively communicate what you want to do in the industry and find the person who has that job. Next, request an informational interview to learn more about their journey and how they got to where they are. Most people in this industry like to talk about how they got their start. I’m always happy to share my journey and career advice to up-and-coming talent.

I love my job! The work we do is vital to the survival of the Industry. It brings me so much joy to help a young professionals land that first gig or to share an emerging writer’s material with an exec who then helps them get on a show. My colleagues in the department have helped writers and directors secure jobs. It’s incredible! For us, diversity and inclusion is not a trend – diversity is here to stay.


Interview by Octavia Goredema @OctaviaGoredema

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