At Wells Fargo, a quest to increase diversity leads to bogus job interviews

Joe Bruno, a former executive in Wells Fargo’s wealth management division, had long been concerned about the way his unit handled certain job interviews.

For many open positions, employees would interview a “diverse” candidate (the bank’s term for a woman or person of color) in accordance with the bank’s informal policy for years. But Mr. Bruno noted that often the so-called diverse candidate would be interviewed for a job that someone else had already been promised.

He complained to his bosses. They dismissed his claims. Last August, Mr. Bruno, 58, was fired. In an interview, he said Wells Fargo retaliated against him for telling his superiors that “bogus interviews” were “inappropriate, morally wrong, ethically wrong.”

Wells Fargo said Bruno was fired for retaliating against a co-worker.

Mr. Bruno is one of seven current and former Wells Fargo employees who said they were instructed by their line managers or human resources managers in the bank’s wealth management unit to interview “diverse” candidates, even though made the decision to give the job to another candidate. Another five said they were aware of the practice or helped organize it.

The interviews, they said, appeared to be more about helping Wells Fargo record its diversity efforts on paper, in part in anticipation of potential regulatory audits, rather than hiring more women or people of color. All but three spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared losing their Wells Fargo jobs or their new employers.

In an emailed statement, Wells Fargo spokeswoman Raschelle Burton said the bank expected all employees to follow its hiring policies and guidelines, which are communicated throughout the company. “To the extent that individual employees engage in the behavior described by The New York Times, we will not tolerate it,” Ms. Burton said.

Ms. Burton said that she was aware that informal directives about hiring various candidates had circulated for a long time within the bank. But those rules were from an earlier time that the bank’s current leaders had nothing to do with, she added. Most of Wells Fargo’s top management resigned in 2020 after a scandal involving the creation of fraudulent accounts damaged the bank’s reputation and led to more than $4.5 billion in fines.

The internal turmoil surrounding Wells Fargo’s diversity policies highlights how even the noblest of goals can end up being distorted as they move from idea to practice, ultimately hurting the very people they were meant to help. .

Two years ago, in light of the national reckoning on race that followed the murder of George Floyd, Wells Fargo was among companies that committed to increasing diversity.

In a June 2020 memo to employees, Charles W. Scharf, who became CEO of Wells Fargo the previous year, pledged to consider a broader range of candidates for positions at the bank, but added that the bank he had difficulty finding qualified black candidates. . He later apologized for the comment when the memo was made public in September.

Following Mr. Scharf’s directive, Wells Fargo adopted a formal policy requiring that a diverse slate of candidates be interviewed for all open positions paying more than $100,000 a year.

That August, Wells Fargo paid nearly $8 million to settle a Labor Department claim that it had discriminated against more than 30,000 black job applicants for positions in banking, sales and support functions.

Wells Fargo had already been trying to increase diversity. In 2013, a group of black Wells Fargo financial advisors sued the bank for racial profiling, claiming they were cornered in poor neighborhoods and cut off from opportunities to win new clients and partner with white financial advisors.

The bank settled the case in 2017. Wells Fargo paid nearly $36 million to some 320 class members and pledged to “take steps designed to improve the employment opportunities, earnings, and advancement of Black financial advisors and financial advisors.” apprentices.”

As the lawsuit progressed, Wells Fargo began requiring that at least one woman or person of color be interviewed for each open position, Burton said. He added that the policy was not written and was only for certain top officials.

The policy was similar to the National Football League’s Rooney Rule, named for Dan Rooney, former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The rule was devised after investigators proved to league officials that black coaches had no job opportunities. It required the league to interview at least one non-white candidate for high-level positions like head coach and general manager. Earlier this year, the NFL was sued by black coaches who claimed they were subjected to “bogus” interviews.

“Well-meaning people created these initiatives, but when they hit the ground, the energy was not devoted to implementing them but to finding a way around them,” said Linda Friedman, the attorney for the black financial advisers involved in the 2017 Wells Fargo deal. . .

Mr. Bruno joined Wells Fargo in 2000 and worked his way up to become a market leader for Wells Fargo Advisors in Jacksonville, Fla. He oversaw 14 branches of the bank’s wealth management operation. He saw himself as a champion of diversity.

Mr. Bruno was primarily responsible for holding two job categories: Financial Advisors and Financial Consultants, who work alongside advisors. He said he was often told to conduct interviews with black candidates for financial consultant positions, which were lower-paying jobs. In most of these cases, Wells had no intention of hiring these people because he or his superiors had already chosen someone for the job, Bruno said.

Bruno said that he ultimately refused to conduct the interviews. “I have a black person across the table who has no chance of getting the job,” he told his bosses.

Barry Sommers, CEO of Wells Fargo’s wealth and investment management business, said the fake interviews wouldn’t even have been necessary for the financial consultant positions Bruno was hiring. His salaries, Sommers said, fell below the $100,000 threshold that required him to interview a diverse slate of candidates under Wells Fargo’s 2020 policy.

“There is absolutely no reason why someone would conduct a fake interview,” Sommers said. Instead of tracking down the identities of those interviewed, the bank focused on the results, and “the numbers are improving,” she said.

Of the nearly 26,000 people the bank hired in 2020, 77 percent were non-white men, Burton said. And last year, 81 percent of the 30,000 people hired were non-white men, he said. He declined to specify how many of those new hires went for jobs above the $100,000 salary threshold.

But six current and former Wells Fargo employees, including Mr. Bruno, said fake interviews were conducted for many types of positions. Three current employees said they took or knew about fake job interviews as recently as this year.

In 2018, Tony Thorpe was a senior manager at Wells Fargo Advisors in Nashville, overseeing 60 advisors. Mr. Thorpe said his boss and the human resources manager who oversaw his area told him that if he found a financial advisor worth hiring, and that advisor wanted to bring in a sales assistant, he was allowed, but the assistant’s job it had to be published. in public.

Mr. Thorpe, who retired from Wells Fargo in 2019, said he was instructed to contact colleges and trade associations in the area where he could meet non-white candidates for the assistant position. Mr. Thorpe said that he never conducted a fake interview, but was asked to document that he had tried to find a “diverse group” of candidates, even though he knew exactly who would get the job.

“You had to tell the story, send an email verifying what you had done,” Thorpe said. “You just had to show that you were trying.”

Ms. Burton said she couldn’t speak about practices under the previous Wells Fargo management, but the bank kept records of every job interview. Recordkeeping is necessary because the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the country’s main banking regulator, conducts regular audits. While the OCC does not enforce its own diversity standards for banks, it does verify that banks comply with state and federal laws, including anti-discrimination laws.

Wells Fargo contacted Don Banks, 31, a black wealth manager who lives in Monroe, Louisiana, twice before he was hired. In 2016 and 2017, a bank human resources representative told Mr. Banks that he had passed an initial round of interviews for a financial advisor trainee position and that he would receive a call from a manager. Both times, no one called.

Mr. Banks had been subjected to bogus interviews, according to a former employee who was a manager in the area where Mr. Banks had applied and who was involved in the hiring process related to Mr. Banks’ application. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he still works in the industry.

Mr. Banks was eventually hired in 2018 by Wells Fargo in a more junior position. Two years later, he was laid off during the pandemic cutbacks.

“It doesn’t seem like a great experience,” said Sommers, executive director of wealth management. “It shouldn’t have happened that way.”

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