At Wells Fargo, pursuit of diversity leads to fake interviews – The New York Times | Region & Cash

To hear more audio stories from publications like The New York Times, Download Audm for iPhone or Android.

To update: Wells Fargo announced a “pause” in the policy that led to fake job interviews.

Joe Bruno, a former executive in Wells Fargo’s wealth management department, has long been concerned about the way his department handles certain job interviews.

For many vacancies, employees interviewed a “diverse” candidate — the bank’s term for a woman or person of color — in accordance with the bank’s longstanding informal policy. But Mr Bruno has noticed that the so-called versatile candidate was often interviewed for a job that had already been promised to someone else.

He complained to his superiors. They rejected his claims. Mr Bruno, 58, was fired last August. In an interview, he said Wells Fargo got back at him for telling his superiors the “fake interviews” were “inappropriate, morally wrong, ethically wrong.”

Wells Fargo said Mr Bruno was fired for retaliating against a colleague.

Mr Bruno is one of seven current and former Wells Fargo employees who said they were instructed by their line managers or HR managers in the bank’s wealth management unit to interview “different” candidates – despite the decision having already been made to give the job to one other candidates. Five others said they knew about the practice or helped arrange it.

They said the interviews seemed more about helping Wells Fargo get its diversity efforts on paper — sometimes in anticipation of possible regulatory scrutiny — than hiring more women or people of color. All but three spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing losing their jobs at Wells Fargo or their new employers.

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

Ms Burton said she was aware that informal instructions on hiring various candidates had long been circulating within the bank. But those rules stemmed from an earlier era that the bank’s current leaders had nothing to do with, she added. Most of Wells Fargo’s top management changed in 2020 after a scandal involving fraudulent account creation damaged the bank’s reputation and resulted in more than $4.5 billion in fines.

The internal confusion surrounding Wells Fargo’s diversity policies shows how even the noblest of goals can become distorted in their journey from idea to practice, ultimately hurting the very people they were meant to help.

Two years ago, Wells Fargo was among companies that pledged to increase diversity in light of the national racial bias following the killing of George Floyd.

In a June 2020 memo to employees, Charles W. Scharf, who became Wells Fargo’s chief executive the year before, promised to consider a broader range of candidates for jobs at the bank, but added that the bank was struggling to find qualified black candidates . He later apologized for the comment when the memo was released in September.

Under Mr. Scharf’s direction, Wells Fargo issued a formal policy requiring that a large number of candidates be interviewed for all open positions paying more than $100,000 per year.

In August of this year, Wells Fargo paid nearly $8 million to settle a Labor Department lawsuit alleging that it discriminated against more than 30,000 black job applicants for positions in banking, sales and support functions.

Wells Fargo had already attempted to increase diversity. In 2013, a group of black financial advisors at Wells Fargo sued the bank for racial discrimination, saying they were cooped up in slums and deterred from opportunities to attract new clients and work with white financial advisors.

The bank settled the case in 2017. Wells Fargo paid nearly $36 million to about 320 members of the class action lawsuit and pledged to “take action aimed at improving employment, earning and advancement opportunities for African-American financial advisers and financial adviser trainees.”

As the lawsuit progressed, Wells Fargo began requiring that at least one woman or person of color be interviewed for each open position, Ms. Burton said. She added that the policy is not written and only applies to certain managerial positions.

The policy was similar to the National Football League’s Rooney Rule, named for Dan Rooney, a former Pittsburgh Steelers owner. The rule was developed after researchers showed league officials that black coaches were being barred from job opportunities. The league was required to interview at least one non-white candidate for leadership positions such as head coach and general manager. Earlier this year, the NFL was sued by black coaches who claim they were the subject of “sham” interviews.

“Well-intentioned people started these initiatives, but when they hit the ground the energy was not put into making them happen, it was finding a way around them,” said Linda Friedman, the Attorney at Wells Fargo 2017 involved black financial advisers settlement.

Mr. Bruno joined Wells Fargo in 2000 and has worked his way up to become the market leader for Wells Fargo Advisors in Jacksonville, Florida. He oversaw 14 branches of the bank’s asset management. He saw himself as an advocate of diversity.

Mr. Bruno was primarily responsible for filling two categories of positions – financial advisors and financial advisors working with advisors. He said he was often told to conduct interviews with black candidates for financial advisor positions, which are lower-paying jobs. In most cases, Wells had no intention of hiring these people because either he or his supervisors had already selected someone for the job, Mr. Bruno said.

Mr Bruno said he eventually refused to do the interviews. “I have a black person on the other side of the table who has no chance of getting the job,” he told his bosses.

Barry Sommers, managing director of Wells Fargo’s wealth and investment management business, said fake interviews were not even necessary for the financial advisor positions that Mr. Bruno was hiring for. Their salaries, Mr. Sommers said, fell below the $100,000 threshold that required interviewing a multitude of candidates under Wells Fargo’s 2020 policy.

“There is absolutely no reason anyone should do a fake interview,” Mr. Sommers said. Instead of tracking respondents’ identities, the bank focused on the results, and “the numbers are getting better,” he said.

Of the nearly 26,000 employees the bank hired in 2020, 77 percent were non-white males, Ms Burton said. And last year, 81 percent of the 30,000 people hired were non-white males, she said. She declined to specify how many of those hires were 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 had, 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 HR manager for his area had both told him that if he found a financial adviser worth hiring and that adviser wanted to bring a sales assistant, it was permissible – but the assistant position must be advertised publicly.

Mr Thorpe, who retired from Wells Fargo in 2019, said he had been directed to reach out to colleges and business associations in the area where he could meet non-white candidates for the assistant job. Mr Thorpe said he never did a fake job interview but had to document trying to find a “diverse pool” of candidates despite knowing exactly who would get the job.

“You had to tell the story, send an email to confirm what you did,” Mr Thorpe said. “You just had to show that you tried.”

Ms Burton said she could not speak to practices previously run by Wells Fargo, but that the bank kept records of each interview. The records are necessary because the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the country’s top banking regulator, conducts regular audits. Although the OCC does not impose its own diversity standards on banks, it does check that they comply with state and federal laws, including anti-discrimination laws.

Don Banks, 31, a black wealth manager from Monroe, La., was twice contacted by Wells Fargo before being hired. In 2016 and 2017, a staff representative at the bank told Mr Banks that he had passed an initial round of interviews for a financial advisor apprenticeship and was receiving a call from a manager. Both times no one called.

According to a former employee who was a manager in the area where Mr. Banks applied and who participated in the hiring process with Mr. Banks’ application, Mr. Banks had been invited to fake job interviews. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because she still works in the industry.

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

“That doesn’t sound like a great experience,” said Mr. Sommers, the managing director of wealth management. “It shouldn’t have happened like that.”

Audio produced by Parin Behrooz.

Leave a Comment