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Did Wells Fargo Really Schedule Fake Interviews to Dodge Diversity?

A new report claims that the financial services firm held interviews with 'diverse' candidates for positions that had already been filled.

After years of activism and a number of national reckonings over racial and gender inequities, many old-school firms are feeling significant pressure to ramp up diversity representation.

This has sometimes been less as a result of a "ethical realization" and more a problem with bad optics and shareholder pressure.

And in some cases, these types of surface-level diversity efforts can be a way for corporate heads to tick off boxes and claim certain milestones — instead of actually making changes that improve conditions for underrepresented groups in the workplace. 

What Is Going On With Wells Fargo?

Financial giant Wells Fargo  (WFC.PRN)  is now being heavily scrutinized for its alleged attempts to fake diversity efforts.

The bank reportedly held interviews meant to establish a track record of interviewing diverse candidates without the intention of actually hiring them. 

As six former Wells Fargo employees and a former executive told the New York Times, hiring managers were instructed to interview people of color and female candidates for certain roles, despite a person already being selected for the position.

Former executive Joe Bruno claims that he was fired in August 2021 after telling superiors that the "fake interviews" he was instructed to hold were "inappropriate, morally wrong, ethically wrong."

Some of these interviews reportedly date as far back as 2017. 

According to three of the employees, whose names are being withheld to avoid retaliation from current and former employers, took place as recently as this year.

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Another former Wells Fargo manager, Tony Thorpe, said that he did not conduct fake interviews.

But Thorpe said he did have to show proof of trying to find a "diverse pool of candidates," even when those in charge of hiring had long ago decided on who would get the job.

"To the extent that individual employees are engaging in the behavior as described by the New York Times, we do not tolerate it," Wells Fargo spokeswoman Raschelle Burton told the Times.

Wells Fargo Has A Not-Always-Rosy History

This type of "established diversity record" effort comes from newly-instituted policies that require many large businesses to include several underrepresented candidates in the hiring pool for senior roles.

But Wells Fargo also has good reasons for wanting to appear like it's making an effort since the bank has several diversity-related scandals in its past.

In 2013, the firm paid $175 million to settle allegations that it offered higher rates and mortgage fees to Black and Hispanic candidates. 

In 2020, the Department of Labor accused the firm of discriminating against Black job applicants and the bank agreed to pay approximately $8 million in back wages.

That same year, current CEO Charles W. Scharf also caused an outcry after sending a memo that claimed the company would ramp up its diversity efforts but struggled to find qualified Black candidates

He later apologized for his "own unconscious bias" after many called the comments patronizing and insulting.

"Perhaps it is the CEO of Wells Fargo who lacks the talent to recruit Black workers," Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wrote on Twitter  (TWTR) - Get Twitter Inc. Report at the time.