UPDATED 9/23, 3:40 p.m. ET: Wells Fargo's Charles Scharf has issued an apology. “I apologize for making an insensitive comment reflecting my own unconscious bias,” he began. “There are many talented diverse individuals working at Wells Fargo (WFC) and throughout the financial services industry and I never meant to imply otherwise. It's clear to me that, across the industry, we have not done enough to improve diversity, especially at senior leadership levels. And there is no question Wells Fargo has to make meaningful progress to increase diverse representation. As I said in June, I have committed that this time must be different."
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Wells Fargo's chief executive Charles Scharf tried to explain why the company is having trouble reaching its diversity goals. In the process, he ended up showing his true colors.
Two participants in a summer Zoom meeting with Scharf told Reuters on Tuesday the company is unable to meet its diversity goals because there is a limited pool of qualified Black talent. He also reiterated this sentiment in a company-wide memo on June 18.
"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 a memo per Reuters.
Wells Fargo & Co. announced new diversity initiatives following nationwide protests in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Although his comments about the Black talent pool rubbed some people the wrong way, there were Black employees that thought the summer meeting was constructive.
"The meeting was incredibly constructive," the president of the Black/African American Connection Team Member Network said after it was reported that "Scharf spent more time listening than speaking." "I walked away being incredibly surprised at how genuine and sincere he is."
Still, there are Black employees across the company who are frustrated by talent shortage claims. They feel like this is a scapegoat for Wells Fargo to hide behind so that it doesn't have to actively search for qualified Black employees.
"There is an amazing amount of Black talent out there," Ken Bacon, a former mortgage industry executive on the boards of Comcast Corp, Ally Financial Inc., and Welltower Inc. said. "If people say they can't find the talent, they either aren't looking hard enough or don't want to find it."
A spokesperson for Wells Fargo, Beth Richek, stepped in to defend Scharf. Richek explained that Wells Fargo has doubled its number of Black leaders over five years. Also, since Scharf joined the bank a little less than a year ago, he has been responsible for adding two Black executives to its operating committee.