Charles Scharf, CEO of Wells Fargo, told several black employees during a Zoom meeting earlier this summer that the bank was struggling to meet diversity goals because of insufficient qualified talent for minority groups.
Two participants at the meeting told Reuters Scharf that they had made the same comment on June 18 in a company-wide memo announcing diversity initiatives.
"While it sounds like an excuse, the unfortunate reality is that there is only a very limited pool of black talent to recruit from," Scharf said in the memo, as reported by Reuters.
Scharf's comments irritated some black Wells Fargo employees, the two employees said, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared repercussion. Black leaders across the country have said they are frustrated with allegations of a black talent shortage. The apology is a major reason companies have trouble finding them.
"There's an amazing amount of black talent out there," Ken Bacon, a former mortgage manager who serves on the boards of Comcast Corp, Ally Financial Inc. and Welltower Inc., told NBC. "When people say they can't find the talent, they either don't search hard enough or they don't want to find it."
The Black Lives Matter movement has shed light on the shortage of black men and women in corporate offices. According to a 2020 report by recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles, black Americans made up only 10% of new director appointments in the Fortune 500 last year, compared to 13% of the US population.
Wall Street Friends chairwoman Lauren Holland told NBC she had more than 8,000 members in minority communities and had posted more jobs in the past two months than in the past five years.
"I get emails literally every day from people asking to be on our list," she said. “The talent is there. It's just about the company accessing it and connecting with it. "
Despite the backlash, some participants were not offended by what Scharf said.
"The meeting was incredibly constructive … I was incredibly surprised at how sincere and sincere he is," Alex David, president of the Black / African American Connection Team member network, told NBC News.
Some experts believe that one of the reasons corporate offices are not different is that such jobs are often filled by people who have run companies, while people of color are usually stuck in roles that are not directly related to profit.
"By the time women and minorities got their foothold in American companies, they were trapped in certain jobs. Companies felt comfortable moving them into roles such as human resources and administrative support," said Teri McClure, former general counsel and chief human resources officer at United Parcel Service Inc., which now sits on several boards of directors, including JetBlue Airways Corp.
Wells Fargo spokeswoman Beth Richek defended Scharf's record for diversity.
Scharf "is committed to profound and systemic change to increase diversity and has hosted several forums where open discussions and unfiltered feedback have taken place," Richek said in a statement.