Wells Fargo chief executive Charles Scharf on Wednesday apologized for attributing a lack of diversity at the company to “a very limited pool of Black talent.” Scharf made these comments, which have since generated backlash, in a message to employees in mid-June, according to Reuters.
In the message, Scharf reportedly outlined new diversity initiatives the company was undertaking amid nationwide Black Lives Matter protests sparked by George Floyd’s death.
“While it might sound like an excuse, the unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of black talent to recruit from,” he reportedly wrote in the memo.
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His comments, which Reuters said had “exasperated” some Black workers, drew criticism once they were made public. Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, tweeted on Tuesday, “Perhaps it’s the CEO of Wells Fargo who lacks the talent to recruit Black workers.”
Scharf, in a message to his employees on Wednesday, labeled his comments “insensitive,” saying they reflected his “own unconscious bias.”
“There are many talented diverse individuals working at Wells Fargo and throughout the financial services industry and I never meant to imply otherwise.
“I’ve worked in the financial services industry for many years, and it’s clear to me that, across the industry, we have not done enough to improve diversity, especially at senior leadership levels,” he said, adding “there is no question Wells Fargo has to make meaningful progress to increase diverse representation.”
Scharf also made it known that his company has, in recent months, brought on board “new diverse senior leaders” including Lester Owens, who will be leading the Operations division at Wells Fargo, and Ather Williams III, who will head the corporation’s Strategy, Digital and Innovation division.
The company is also developing an anti-racism training course and a “returnship” program largely for “diverse talent who have been out of the workforce for an extended period to support their return to the industry.”
Scharf took over as chief executive at Wells in 2019 following some scandalous activities by employees, some of whom had created millions of fake accounts in customers’ names.
A year before he joined the company, less than 5 percent of those holding senior roles were Black, according to the Washington Post. Three years prior, Blacks holding such roles were just about half the percentage.