The head of the US bank Wells Fargo apologized for statements that attributed the lack of diversity in the bank’s senior ranks to a lack of qualified minority candidates.
The comments, made in a June call with employees and repeated in a note, sparked widespread criticism after they were reported on Tuesday.
Bank chief Charles Scharf said he made a “non-sensitive comment that reflects our subconscious bias”.
He said, “I apologize.”
Apologies, In a letter to employees The bank shared it, following an earlier statement, in which Mr. Scharf said he was “sorry” his comments were misinterpreted.
“There are many diverse talented individuals who work at Wells Fargo and throughout the financial services industry, and I never intended to indicate otherwise,” Mr. Scharf said in a Wednesday message.
“Across the industry, we have not done enough to improve diversity, especially at senior levels of leadership.”
Mr. Scharf’s comments come as the corporate world faces scrutiny over its handling of diversity issues.
Wells Fargo’s private racing record was also in the limelight, as the company paid millions to settle investigations into discriminatory lending and hiring.
In June, the bank announced various initiatives, in the wake of global protests over police brutality and racism.
In the memo announcing the plans, which was reported by Reuters, Scharf said: “While this may seem like an excuse, the unfortunate fact is that there is a very limited group of black talent that can be recruited from.”
The comment drew criticism from politicians such as liberal New York congressman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as other business leaders.
“Maybe it is the CEO of Wells Fargo who lacks the talent to hire black workers,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a tweet.
Scharf, who started his career at Wells Fargo last year, listed a few recent appointments the bank made – including adding black employees to the operating committee – as evidence of its commitment to diversity.
He also pledged to double the number of black leaders over the next five years and tie executive compensation to reach diversity goals, among other changes.
“For anyone who is open to re-evaluating their position and point of view and taking into account a new set of facts, you should give them the benefit of the doubt,” Terry McClure, former CEO of United Parcel Service, who was among those who criticized Mr. Scharf, told Reuters.
“Wells Fargo should use this as an opportunity to move forward,” she added.