Josie Thomas optimistic based on her CBS experience
By Charles Hallman
The number of women in leadership positions virtually has not changed since 2009, says a Women’s Media Center study on females in the media (see “Black women hammering at media’s glass ceiling: Mainstream offers them ‘dismal’ opportunities,” April 4, MSR). However, a top CBS female executive says the numbers are improving.
CBS Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Josie Thomas was the featured speaker April 2 at University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communications Spring Forum. She has held several management-level positions at CBS since 1995, and since being named to her present position last year, Thomas directly reports to network President and CEO Leslie Moonves.
“I think there have been some notable strides” in media diversity, especially Black women as leaders, said Thomas in an interview with the MSR. “You have an Oprah Winfrey… You have a media mogul at that level and the people she probably mentored in her career. When you have someone that influential and that phenomenal, it’s important. When you see a Shonda Rhimes who’s had [three hit television series], that’s something that is noteworthy. I have to note that those are important steps…that represent to other Black women coming up that it’s doable, achievable and possible.
“I’m encouraged by that,” continued Thomas. “I’m sure that probably the numbers are discouraging because you can’t [point to] two people and say that’s a movement. But you can’t disregard it either.”
In addition to being a senior advisor to the CBS News president, among Thomas’ other responsibilities are creating and executing outreach and recruitment initiatives as well as developing new ways to increase the number of Blacks, other people of color and women in management and non-management positions. Her office also oversees the CBS Diversity Institute that Thomas launched in 2003 along with a diversity writers mentoring program and directing initiative, actor showcases and writing workshops.
During her speech last week at the U of M’s McNamara Alumni Center, Thomas stated that CBS’ commitment to diversity has seven elements: commitment from the top, employee engagement, internship programs, outreach efforts, branding, supplier diversity, and consistent, measurable goals.
“At CBS, diversity is not just a human resources position, or a communications issue,” noted Thomas, adding that it makes good business sense. “That is why it is important to develop a multidimensional strategy for inclusion.
“The CEO must deliver a clear message and make it clear” that diversity is important throughout the company, especially in key positions, continued Thomas. “My [present] job was created by our CEO,” adding that Moonves is fully committed to diversity at CBS and all network executives are held accountable for achieving diversity goals.
“Women are very much a priority at CBS,” said Thomas as she cited three other women of color in key positions: Diversity and Communications Vice President Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, Diversity Director Barbara Matos, CBS Entertainment Current Programs Vice President Jeanne Mau, and Natalie Robinson as the network’s strategic sourcing and supplier diversity director.
When an audience member asked her how CBS accurately measures if the company achieves its diversity goals, Thomas responded, “We have to be detailed and clear. We try to make these objectives relatively clear. [It’s] a culture change you have to have for diversity to take place.”
After her remarks, the MSR asked Thomas how directly reporting to the network president helps to promote diversity at CBS. “It gives you the opportunity to dialogue at a very senior level,” she said. “If you have that reporting structure, I’m able to speak to my colleagues at any level. I think it has been very helpful in getting out to the company the message of what [diversity] means.
“I think that the message is important in any organization, and people need to feel and see that that person [speaking the message] has direct access,” added Thomas.
Thomas proudly called her mother, legendary educator and former U of M Board of Regents member Dr. Josie Johnson, “a legacy creator.” She recalls both her mother and her father impressing on her the importance of leaving behind a legacy or “having somebody say, ‘I remember she tried to do, or did do, or what she accomplished.” Thomas added that she hopes she is doing the same at CBS.
“I also like the idea of mentoring, encouraging and supporting minority women in different stages of their careers and setting up a support system,” said Thomas.
Nonetheless, Thomas surmised, “When you look at the very high [media glass] ceiling of many companies, I think it’s easy for people to get bottomed out. People aren’t moving from those very senior level positions.
“Maybe I am an optimist, but I do think that the discussion has become more sophisticated and engrained in companies, that it is no longer [checking] ‘the diversity box’…It’s more broad or in-depth conversations where more people are engaged.
“As a Black woman, I have a particular awareness around those issues,” Thomas said. “If I can get Caucasian men more engaged in that process, that’s fabulous. I’m encouraged by what I see at that level of discussion about diversity.”
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