Former BET CEO Debra Lee is reflecting on her 3 decades climbing up the ladder in leadership and in life in her new memoir, I Am Debra Lee, released Tuesday (Mar. 7). That includes a new revelation that Lee was in a relationship with the network’s founder, Bob Johnson.
During an interview with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts, she gave some insight into their relationship (while they were both married to other people) as well as what happened when Lee tried to end things.
Lee explained in further detail in an interview with The Washington Post that her career hung in the balance as she tried to end the affair.
“Oh yeah, I was told that many times,” she explains. “It’s like, ‘Okay, if you’re going to break up with me, let’s get on the phone and tell people you are leaving right now.’ And as a working mother, how does one recover from something like that? How does one say, ‘The man I worked for for 20 years won’t give me a recommendation and fired me because we were in a relationship and now it’s over.'”
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Bob Johnson would leave BET for good in 2005, and Lee would become Chairman and CEO of the network. She would remain there until 2018.
Lee explains why it was important for her to reveal the relationship with Johnson in the book. “We’ve heard so much about the guys who come to the door with their robe open and they come out naked. That wasn’t the kind of experience I had. … It turned into a situation where my job was at issue anytime I thought about breaking up the relationship. That’s very much sexual harassment, but it’s a different kind of sexual harassment. I wanted young women to know that if you’re in a relationship that’s uneven in terms of the power structure, that it can turn abusive.”
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