September 23, 2020

Wells Fargo CEO’s comments about diverse talent anger some employees

Wells Fargo Chief Executive Charles Scharf exasperated some Black employees in a Zoom meeting this summer when he reiterated that the bank had trouble reaching diversity goals because there was not enough qualified minority talent, two participants told Reuters.

He also made the assertion in a company-wide memo June 18 that announced diversity initiatives as nationwide protests broke out following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American man, in police custody.

“While it might sound like an excuse, the unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of black talent to recruit from,” Scharf said in the memo, seen by Reuters.

Scharf spent more time listening than speaking during the 90-minute call which he initiated and has not been previously reported. His comments about Black talent rubbed some attendees the wrong way, according to the two employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared repercussions.

Not all attendees recalled being offended. “The meeting was incredibly constructive… I walked away being incredibly surprised at how genuine and sincere he is,” said Alex David, president of the Black/African American Connection Team Member Network.

But several Black senior executives across corporate America said they are frustrated by claims of a talent shortage, and called the refrain a major reason that companies have struggled to add enough racial and ethnic diversity to leadership ranks, despite stated intentions to do so.

“There is an amazing amount of Black talent out there,” said Ken Bacon, a former mortgage industry executive who is on the boards of Comcast Corp, Ally Financial Inc and Welltower Inc. “If people say they can’t find the talent, they either aren’t looking hard enough or don’t want to find it.”

Bacon said he was “shocked and puzzled” by Scharf’s comments.

Wells Fargo spokeswoman Beth Richek defended Scharf’s record on diversity.

The CEO of the largest U.S. bank employer has pledged to double the number of Black leaders over five years and tied executive compensation to reaching diversity goals. He is also requiring hiring managers to consider diverse candidates for high-paying roles that are vacant, and ensure diversity on interview teams.

Wells Fargo’s latest proxy disclosed more diversity data than those of many other companies, including that two of 12 directors at the time were Black and 1 was “Latino/Hispanic”.