EBONY: I first want to know what your new title means for you, and CBS viewers?
Josie Thomas: For CBS, it means that diversity continues to be a very top priority for all of our business units across the board, and for us as a company in terms of smart business decisions and community engagement. I think this new position actually reflects an ongoing commitment [to diversity] that comes from the top, with our CEO.
EBONY: This isn’t your first time in a leadership position promoting diversity. What do you feel you are bringing to the table with your new title that might not have been there before?
JT: Well, as you said, I actually have been [at] the functioning end of senior level positions in diversity for a number of years. I’ve been an attorney for a number of years. So I think for me, it reflects the continued support that I get from our CEO and others in the company to continue on this very important path that we are on. It gives me additional opportunities to expand what we already have in place and to further refine our efforts. At the end of the day, what we’re looking for is impact on the industry, our business and the communities we serve.
EBONY: You began a career in law, so how did you merge into broadcast?
JT: All of my work is in the field of intellectual property; from creative content to copyright. Early on in my legal career, I got engaged with a law firm that focused on trademark and copyright. But I was looking for an opportunity for a career in a business that values creativity, and I’m also a big fan of television. So working with the CBS Corporation—that not only has television but that also has radio, publishing, interactive and so many other components—is a thrill for me every day.
EBONY: What have you noticed recently—in the last five to 10 years—about diversity on the small screen that wasn’t there before?
JT: I think that the level of the discussion about the importance of diversity, especially in the CBS family, is one that has expanded considerably over the years. People recognize that it’s important as a business imperative. And I think you can see those improvements across the board in the roles that folks of color are playing [on TV].
EBONY: Is this new focus on diversity a trend, or are media companies really serious about being culturally inclusive?
JT: In no way do I think this is just a trend. I think it’s a business imperative. The demographics of the country are changing, and I think any smart or top-tier business should be seizing the opportunity to embrace diversity.
EBONY: How do you think Black-owned companies can participate in the emerging idea of embracing diversity?
JT: First, let me just say that I have nothing but respect for the strong Black companies that exist, and I don’t presume to know how to tell any of them how to operate their business. But I think in general, at any operation, whenever you have the most diverse voices at the table, you create a rich company, figuratively and literally. It’s not merely a concept of color or even gender. It’s perspective and experience, and it can be multigenerational. Whenever you have the most inclusive environment at the decision-making table, you’re more than likely to reach better business solutions and to create a more effective team strategy. I believe that is an important concept across the board in business.
EBONY: What the word “diversity” actually mean to you?
JT: Diversity means inclusiveness, acknowledging and appreciating what makes any one of us different from anyone else.
EBONY: As an African-American woman, do you have a vision to help Black men and women see that it’s not just about White people and us anymore?
JT: Honestly, I am encouraged each and every day by what I see as a real progression in every community. Not only the African-American community, but also the Latino and Asian-American communities, in the notion of getting diversity to be inclusive of all uniqueness. I do spend a lot of time with primarily African-American advocacy groups, as I do all the other minority groups. I do see a real sense of inclusion of groups of all colors’ experience as we move forward. But I do think that many of the national African-American organizations have become very inclusive in their recognizing the struggles of others as being important to them.
EBONY: Has there ever been an obstacle that blocked you from doing something you wanted to do? If so, how did you overcome that?
JT: I don’t want to appear naïve in any regard, and it could be because of my legal training, but I look at each obstacle as a challenge and an opportunity. A lot of times when you appear to run into obstacles, it’s because someone doesn’t really understand what is being composed. And so therefore, it’s up to you to go through the process with them and describe what it is that you’re trying to do. By having done that, I’ve found that there hasn’t been much resistance for any extended period of time. So I think that it’s a matter of having a conversation in which you make what you’re trying to achieve meaningful to whomever you’re speaking with. That’s what I try to do.
EBONY: Tell me more about your CBS Writers Fellowship program that you developed and how you’ve seen that impact young media mavens coming up in the industry.
JT: Each one of our components of the program is meant to really get people in front of decision makers. We look at ourselves as what you would call the aunt and uncle in the business. Because we recognize that relationships are critical in an industry where there aren’t a lot of opportunities and where there are a lot of folks qualified for those opportunities. We really want to make sure we’re connecting the dots where you have the folks with the skillsets in front of the people who are making the decisions, and that’s really what its all about.
With our writer program, that’s what it’s all about. That is our goal. We want to identify really strong candidates for our program, but also make sure they develop long-standing relationships with executives in a position to hire, and also CBS executives. We’ve literally seen lives change, and you can’t ask for anything more than that.
EBONY: You’ve been in this position of media and broadcasting for a long time. But in this new position, what would you like to accomplish?
JT: I speak to it in terms of moving the needle forward in a number of different ways. I look at it internally in terms of employee engagement and career development and discussions around diversity inclusion internally. I look at it in terms of external engagement and looking at the communities we work in and the businesses that we interact with in trying to further impact how we’re working with the communities. You look at the bigger picture of education and we were engaged in many respects in that part of it. I am personally engaged in working with educational institutions and looking at the long-term impact in the education arena.