After years of activism and a series of national reckonings about racial and gender inequalities, many old-school companies feel under significant pressure to increase diversity representation.
This has sometimes been less the result of an “ethical insight” and more a problem of poor visuals and shareholder pressure.
And in some cases, these types of superficial diversity efforts can be a way for business leaders to tick boxes and hit specific milestones — rather than actually making changes that improve conditions for underrepresented groups in the workplace.
What’s going on with Wells Fargo?
The financial giant Wells Fargo (WFC.PRN) is now under heavy scrutiny for alleged attempts to fake diversity efforts.
The bank reportedly conducted interviews to build a track record of interviewing various candidates with no intention of actually hiring them.
According to six former Wells Fargo employees and a former New York Times executive, hiring managers have been instructed to interview black and female candidates for certain positions, even though one person has already been selected for the position.
Former manager Joe Bruno claims he was fired in August 2021 after telling supervisors that the “fake interviews” he was asked to conduct were “inappropriate, morally wrong, ethically wrong”.
Some of these interviews reportedly date back to 2017.
According to three of the employees, whose names are being withheld to avoid retaliation from current and former employers, this happened as recently as this year.
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Another former Wells Fargo manager, Tony Thorpe, said he did not conduct any fake interviews.
But Thorpe said he needed to show he had tried to find a “diverse pool of candidates”, even if those responsible for hiring had long ago decided who would get the job.
“To the extent that individual employees engage in the behavior described by the New York Times, we do not condone it,” Wells Fargo spokeswoman Raschelle Burton told the Times.
Wells Fargo has a not always rosy history
This kind of “diversity record-breaking” effort comes from newly introduced policies that require many large companies to include multiple underrepresented candidates in the hiring pool for senior positions.
But Wells Fargo also has good reasons for appearing to be trying, given the bank’s history of multiple diversity scandals.
In 2013, the company paid $175 million to settle allegations that it had offered higher interest rates and mortgage fees to black and Hispanic candidates.
In 2020, the Department of Labor accused the company of discriminating against black job applicants, and the bank agreed to pay about $8 million in back wages.
That same year, current CEO Charles W. Scharf also caused an outcry after sending out a memo claiming the company was increasing its diversity efforts but was having trouble finding qualified black candidates.
He later apologized for his “own unconscious bias” after many called the comments patronizing and offensive.
“Maybe it’s the CEO of Wells Fargo who lacks the talent to recruit black workers,” Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) wrote on Twitter (TWTR) – Get the report from Twitter, Inc back then.