Scharf’s comments were pilloried online.
“Perhaps it’s the CEO of Wells Fargo who lacks the talent to recruit Black workers,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said in a tweet.
On Wednesday morning, Scharf apologized in a memo to the entire company “for making an insensitive comment reflecting my own unconscious bias,” he said.
“There are many talented diverse individuals working at Wells Fargo and throughout the financial services industry and I never meant to imply otherwise,” Scharf wrote. “It’s clear to me that, across the industry, we have not done enough to improve diversity, especially at senior leadership levels. And there is no question Wells Fargo has to make meaningful progress to increase diverse representation.”
Just 4.1 percent of Wells Fargo’s senior workforce was Black in 2018, compared with 8 percent in 2015.
U.S. business leaders have long blamed a shortage of minority applicants for the lack of diversity at their companies. But that explanation has been widely criticized by workers, recruitment managers, diversity experts and executives themselves as a reflection of a company’s reliance on homogeneous job networks and a failure to seek out qualified minority candidates.
During the protests, Wells Fargo said a committee of senior executives was meeting daily to develop recommendations for addressing societal inequalities facing black employees and customers. “As a white man, as much as I can try to understand what others are feeling, I know that I cannot really appreciate and understand what people of color experience and the impacts of discriminatory behavior others must live with,” Scharf told employees at the time.
Wall Street, known for an insular culture that has historically been hostile to women and people of color, has for years promised to boost the diversity of its staff and leadership ranks. But the industry has struggled to do so. Between 2007 and 2015, the number of African Americans in first-, mid- and senior-level management positions decreased, from 6.5 percent to 6.3 percent, even as overall representation for minorities in the industry has increased, according to a Government Accountability Office report.