At Wells Fargo, a quest to increase diversity leads to fake job interviews

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Joe Bruno, a former executive in Wells Fargo’s wealth management division, had long been troubled by his unit’s handling of some job interviews.

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

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

Wells Fargo said Mr Bruno was fired for retaliating against a co-worker.

Mr Bruno is one of seven current and former Wells Fargo employees who said they were asked by their direct supervisors or human resources managers in the bank’s wealth management unit to interview “diverse” candidates. – even though the decision had already been made to give the job to another candidate. Five others said they knew about the practice or had helped organize it.

The interviews, they said, appeared to be more about helping Wells Fargo get its diversity efforts on paper — partly in anticipation of potential regulatory audits — rather than hiring more women or people of color. All but three spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared losing their jobs at Wells Fargo or their new employer.

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 board. ‘business. “To the extent that individual employees engage in the behavior described by The New York Times, we do not condone it,” Ms. Burton said.

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

The internal confusion around Wells Fargo’s diversity policies shows how even the loftiest goals can end up being twisted as they move from idea to practice, ultimately hurting the very people they were meant to help.

Two years ago, in light of the national reckoning of race following the murder of George Floyd, Wells Fargo was among the companies that pledged to increase diversity.

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

Following Mr. Scharf’s directive, Wells Fargo adopted a formal policy requiring that a diverse list of candidates be interviewed for all open jobs paying more than $100,000 per year.

In August, Wells Fargo paid nearly $8 million to settle a Labor Department claim that it had discriminated against more than 30,000 black applicants for positions in banking, sales and support.

Wells Fargo had previously tried to increase diversity. In 2013, a group of black Wells Fargo financial advisers sued the bank for racial discrimination, saying they were herded into poor neighborhoods and kept out of opportunities to win new clients and partner with companies. white financial advisors.

The bank settled the case in 2017. Wells Fargo paid nearly $36 million to about 320 class action members and pledged to “take steps to improve employment, income and employment opportunities.” ‘Advancement of African American Financial Advisors and Financial Advisors’. trainees. »

As the lawsuit progressed, Wells Fargo began requiring that at least one woman or person of color be interviewed for each vacancy, Ms Burton said. She added that the policy was unwritten and only applied to certain senior positions.

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

“Well-meaning people created these initiatives, but when they hit the ground running, the energy was spent not implementing them but finding a way around them,” said Linda Friedman, the attorney. black financial advisers involved in the 2017 Wells Fargo settlement.

Mr. Bruno joined Wells Fargo in 2000 and rose through the ranks to become a Market Leader for Wells Fargo Advisors in Jacksonville, Florida. He oversaw 14 branches of the bank’s wealth management operations. He considered himself a champion of diversity.

Mr. Bruno was primarily responsible for filling two job categories, Financial Advisors and Financial Advisors, which sit alongside Advisors. He said he was often asked to conduct interviews with black candidates for financial consultant positions, which were lower-paying jobs. In most of those cases, Wells had no intention of hiring those people because he or his superiors had already chosen someone for the job, Bruno said.

Bruno said he ultimately declined to conduct 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 management and investment business, said bogus interviews wouldn’t even have been necessary for the financial consultant jobs Mr Bruno was recruiting for. Their salaries, Sommers said, fell below the $100,000 threshold that required a diverse list of candidates to be interviewed under Wells Fargo’s 2020 policy.

“There’s absolutely no reason for anyone to be conducting a fake interview,” Sommers said. Rather than tracking respondents’ identities, the bank has focused on results, and “the numbers are improving,” he said.

Of the nearly 26,000 people the bank hired in 2020, 77% were non-white men, Ms Burton said. And last year, 81% of the 30,000 people hired were non-white men, she said. She declined to specify how many of those new 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 conducted or learned 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 human resources manager who oversaw his area had both told him that if he found a financial adviser who was worth hiring, and that adviser wanted to bring in a business assistant , it was allowed – but the position of the assistant had to be posted. publicly.

Mr Thorpe, who retired from Wells Fargo in 2019, said he had been instructed to contact area colleges and professional associations where he could meet non-white candidates for the assistant position. Mr Thorpe said he had never conducted a mock interview, but had to document that he had tried to find a “diverse pool” of candidates, even though he knew exactly who would get the job.

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

Ms Burton said she could not speak about practices under Wells Fargo’s previous management, but the bank kept records of every job interview. Record keeping is necessary because the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the country’s main banking regulator, conducts periodic audits. Although the OCC does not impose its own diversity standards on banks, it verifies that they comply with state and federal laws, including anti-discrimination laws.

Don Banks, 31, a black wealth manager living in Monroe, Louisiana, was contacted by Wells Fargo twice before being hired. In 2016 and 2017, a human resources representative at the bank told Mr. Banks that he had passed an initial round of interviews for a position as a trainee financial adviser and that he would receive a call from a manager. Both times no one called.

Mr. Banks had been subjected to fake interviews, according to a former employee who was a manager in the area where Mr. Banks had applied and who was involved in the hiring process involving Mr. Banks’ candidacy. The person spoke on condition of anonymity as he still works in the industry.

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

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

Sound produced by Parin Behrooz.