Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf’s recent comments alleging that there is a limited supply of Black talent in America revive a long-held bias that continues to stifle the advancement of Black executives in this country. Scharf’s comments run counter to the recent pronouncements from many companies supporting and encouraging diversity and inclusion. His comments also show that if the beliefs of corporate leadership don’t change, neither will diversity outcomes.
Responding to questions about the promotion of Black employees to senior management positions, in a memo to employees this summer Scharf wrote, “The unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of Black talent to recruit from with this specific experience as our industry does not have enough diversity in most senior roles.”
Interestingly enough, other companies have thought rather highly of Wells Fargo Black employees. Companies have convinced seven female Black executives to leave the bank and pursue opportunities elsewhere over the last 12 months, which raises the question, what criteria is Wells Fargo using to evaluate Black talent in the first place? The reason diverse talent is walking out the door at Wells Fargo is not because people are not talented. If Scharf can’t recognize and promote the diverse talent he has, how can he say there is no diverse talent out there?
If corporate boards are going to make good on promises of embracing diversity and inclusion efforts at their companies, there are some things directors can do to help the process. Teri McClure, an African American who serves on four corporate boards, is also the former general counsel and chief human resources officer of UPS, so she has a wealth of experience with human capital management issues. Here, she offers advice to boards that truly want to bring on more diverse talent and are willing to work harder to find it.
CBM: What should happen inside boardrooms to get directors more open to having a more diverse board?
TERI MCCLURE: It’s a discussion that must be very specific. You need to work with the nomination and corporate governance committee and explain that all the people coming through this organization have been referred by someone and that needs to change.
If it seems that all the names for board positions are people that individuals currently on the board know and you have exhausted your circle of friends and acquaintances, it can help to go to an external recruiting firm or a diverse organization for referrals… There are lots of individuals in Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies that may not have high visibility, but are serving in very significant roles with very broad experience that can transition into board roles and you would not know them unless you were in their industry or affiliated with organizations they belong to. So you have to go outside of your knowledge base as board members, and I encourage that.
When I sit on a board, I encourage the directors to go beyond the known individuals. I’m constantly putting resumes in from of people whether I’m pulling candidates off of LinkedIn, or meeting them in organizations like the Executive Leadership Council that I’m affiliated with. I’m always recruiting.
CBM: How do you convince white executives that there is Black executive level talent out there?
MCCLURE: In a lot of companies, particularly in service industries, the vast majority of the employees are very diverse, particularly at the entry level. The problem is that the talent is not reaching up to the top as frequently as it should. But now, these companies and their boards and employees are requesting that organizations at the senior levels be reflective of the broader population of the workforce. That’s one way to approach it.
The other way is to expose those leaders, or if it’s the board, to people who could potentially be good board candidates for a board position. By putting more talent in front of them, eventually they will see that there is more talent out there. The ultimate thing is to encourage them to work through a third party and not rely on the people they know in the room to identify talent. Even me, although I may have a broader group of diverse people I interact with on a regular basis, there are whole regions of the country where I don’t have connections and that have large groups of talented African Americans in senior level positions that I don’t know – and more so now than ever before. So sometimes you have to work through more structured programs to get at this talent and you have to be very intentional to do that.
And finally, “can you try a little bit harder” should be the push back on companies that say they can’t find Black talent. It takes time and it takes intentionality and a commitment to going the extra mile to bring diverse talent into an organization. It takes a little bit more work because you don’t have connections with those diverse groups of people.
Helpful resources: Candidate databases listed on Boardrooms.com such as theBoardList, Boardspan, BoardProspects, Catalyst Corporate Board Resource and Diverse Director Data Source.