Wells Fargo CEO issues apology after saying there was a 'limited pool of Black talent'

Wells Fargo CEO issues apology after saying there was a 'limited pool of Black talent'
© Bonnie Cash

Wells Fargo chief executive Charles Scharf on Wednesday issued an apology after drawing a wave of backlash online for attributing a lack of diversity at the company to what he referred to as “a very limited pool of Black talent.” 

Scharf made the controversial comments in a message to employees in mid-June, according to Reuters, which was first to break the news.

In the message, Scharf had reportedly touched on efforts aimed at boosting diversity that were underway at the company amid widespread protests against racism and police brutality following the police killing of George Floyd.


"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.

The comments, which were made public by Reuters earlier this week, generated widespread criticism online from a number of prominent figures, including NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezProgressive lawmakers call for United Nations probe into DHS 'human rights abuses' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats play defense, GOP goes on attack after Biden oil comments | Energy Dept. exempts quick dishwashers from existing efficiency standards | Ocasio-Cortez says having Green New Deal would have helped handle COVID-19 pandemic Ocasio-Cortez says Biden vote can be 'tactical' effort to support marginalized communities MORE (D-N.Y.).



In a message to employees on Wednesday that was shared by the company in a release on its website, Scharf apologized for the comments, which he labelled “insensitive” and said 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 that “there is no question Wells Fargo has to make meaningful progress to increase diverse representation.” 

He also went on to point to “new diverse senior leaders” whom the company has hired in recent months, including Lester Owens, who will be heading the Operations division at Wells Fargo, and Ather Williams III, who will lead the corporation’s Strategy, Digital and Innovation division. 

Scharf also said the company is “close to hiring a leader for the new Diverse Segments, Representation & Inclusion Group” and is making efforts to build connections with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) to find diverse talent. 

Additional efforts that are underway at the company include the development of a anti-racism training course and a “returnship” program geared toward “diverse talent who have been out of the workforce for an extended period to support their return to the industry," he said.

According to The Washington Post, less than 5 percent of those holding senior roles at the company in 2018, a year before Scharf was made chief executive of the corporation, were Black. The figure was roughly half the percentage from three years prior.