Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf apologized Wednesday for a remark he made in June about the talent pool of senior Black banking executives that set off a wave of criticism when the quote resurfaced Tuesday.
On June 16, as the country was engulfed in protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Scharf sent a memo to the bank's roughly 250,000 employees outlining a set of changes that he said would help improve the firm's diversity.
If executives like Scharf didn't meet new goals to hire a diverse workforce, their pay would be docked. It was one of the first major financial institutions to institute the policy, one that advocates for diversity in corporate America have pushed for years.
In the second bullet of the third line-item of the memo, Scharf made a remark about the issues he said the bank had seen in hiring Black leaders to the bank's operating committee, a group of senior leaders that steer the bank's direction.
While he wanted more diversity on this committee, Scharf said "while it might sound like an excuse, the unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of Black talent to recruit from with this specific experience as our industry does not have enough diversity in most senior roles."
After a Tuesday story from Reuters about the remark and another like it that Reuters said Scharf made, the Wells Fargo chief apologized for the remark Wednesday in another companywide message.
"I apologize for making an insensitive comment reflecting my own unconscious bias," Scharf said, more than three months after he sent the first memo.
He emphasized the work he said the bank has done to improve its diversity, including hiring Black senior executives, and requiring diverse candidates to be considered for jobs that pay more than $100,000 a year.
Twitter comes in
The apology came after the bank was ridiculed on Twitter for the remark, much of it sparked by a tweet from NBC News, which was re-posting the Reuters story but didn't make it clear that the "Black talent" comment was about the corps of most-senior executives in banking.