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What employers can learn from Wells Fargo’s failure to recruit and retain Black talent

We’ve all seen the quotes from Wells Fargo’s CEO in a June memo in which he blamed the bank’s failure in reaching diversity goals on a lack of qualified minority talent. “While it might sound like an excuse, the unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of black talent to recruit from,” he stated.

Keirsten Greggs

He’s right. This is just an excuse. In addressing this topic internally, Scharf chose not to dig to uncover why his organization has failed to recruit and retain Black talent effectively.

To better understand this failure and the lessons other organizations can learn to improve their recruiting efforts, DiversityJobs.com spoke with Keirsten Greggs, founder of TRAP Recruiter, LLC.

Q: This reasoning from Wells Fargo is simply to cover up their failure to recruit and retain Black talent effectively, isn’t it?

A: Yes, that sums it up. He isn’t alone in this thinking, and it isn’t just underrepresented talent – it’s talent in general. According to a McKinsey survey, 82% of Fortune 500 Execs believe their companies do not recruit highly-talented people in general. Part of the problem is this mindset further alienates marginalized, underrepresented groups. Preference has been placed on hiring white males because they are believed to be the best and most qualified for certain roles, and it makes it more difficult to show the value of targeted diversity hiring strategies when leadership has little confidence in “regular” efforts to attract highly-talented people.

Q: Let’s start with the recruiting component. Why are organizations so bad at recruiting Black professionals? 

A: It hasn’t been a priority.

There has been more emphasis put on the ‘numbers’ and the process of getting these candidates on the interview slate, without real intentions of converting them into hires. Companies aren’t creating recruiting strategies that attract Black professionals and aren’t doing enough outreach to them. Companies are looking for culture fit instead of culture add.

Q: The idea that it hasn’t been a priority and without real intention to hire Black talent – are those the same reasons that apply to recruiting other People of Color and underrepresented groups?
There has been more emphasis put on the ‘numbers’ and the process of getting these [Black] candidates on the interview slate, without real intentions of converting them into hires.
A: In some cases, yes. However, organizations often do a better job recruiting other demographics that fall under their diversity umbrellas – such as women, early-career and recent grads, and veterans. When they create diversity recruiting strategies, even though Black professionals are part of that focus, non-POCs usually make up the overwhelming majority of these recruiting efforts.

Q: What are the different steps within the recruiting process where companies are failing? Where can they focus on improving? 

A: There are many areas to cover here, but here is a quick overview:

  1. Recruiting teams should be more diverse as opposed to homogenous. Recruiters are often the first point of contact potential employees have with an organization, and it’s essential for them to positively reflect the organization’s culture. When a recruiting team is toxic (not inclusive), it is easier to overlook and accept those behaviors in potential employees.
  2. Recruiting teams should be a part of creating the strategies from the beginning. They are often held accountable for the result without first being empowered.
  3. it makes it more difficult to show the value of targeted diversity hiring strategies when leadership has little confidence in “regular” efforts to attract highly talented people.
  4. Companies need to create a plan and statement (that can be included in job descriptions and your website) that outlines your organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts. I’m not talking about a stale EEO statement, but rather articulating a top-down vision (it starts with leadership) for how and why DEIB important to your organization.
  5. Evaluations or assessments are often biased, which prevents many underrepresented candidates from advancing through the hiring funnel. But once on the job, the same biased evaluations prevent them from being promoted and advancing in their careers.
  6. Finally, companies often do a poor job developing and retaining their existing diverse talent.
Q: How much of these issues do you think stem from simple bias or racism?

A: I think a lot of it is systemic and goes unacknowledged and, therefore, isn’t addressed. Everyone has biases. But until we get to the point where those biases are acknowledged, they will continue to guide our decision-making – that is where the problem lies.

I believe most people involved in the hiring process would be willing to do better if someone simply challenged them and addressed their biases. Unfortunately, a small percentage of people in recruiting are just inherently racist and have no intention of changing.

Q: You showed me a recent article about the Black female executives who left Wells Fargo within the past year, even before the latest news broke. Why are companies so bad at retaining Black talent? 
This all happens because leadership often can’t relate to Black employees’ experiences because leadership is not Black.
A: Until the George Floyd murder early this year, most organizations only acknowledged Black employees and made ‘inclusive’ statements during Black History Month or in response to viral racist acts or legal actions that played out in the news producing bad PR. So Black employees don’t feel valued.

Work environments are hostile, and there are more microaggressions than safe spaces. Black talent is tired of ‘waiting their turn’ and being passed over for promotions and opportunities for career advancement. And there is well-documented pay inequity.

This all happens because leadership often can’t relate to Black employees’ experiences because leadership is not Black.

Q: Aside from We’ve seen study after study showing companies with more diverse teams are more successful than others. To put it simply, diversity equals success. Why is workplace diversity so difficult to put into practice? 

A: A few reasons:

  • The work environment is toxic.
  • There’s little diversity representation currently, so those who are underrepresented can’t “see” a career path for themselves, which further prevents progress.
  • The recruiting process may be broken and be over-wrought with bias.
  • Companies can’t articulate what steps they are taking to improve a toxic culture and aid in the candidate’s success once they’re an employee.

Any of these points alone hinders workplace diversity. When combined, they make progress virtually impossible.

Q: How do company cultures foster diversity? Are there examples of ideals or practices that great company cultures have in common? 

A: Organizations that aren’t afraid to talk about race and that take deliberate steps to foster impactful inclusion and belonging. Great organizations have strong DEIB strategies, D&I Councils, ERGS, and leadership buy-in for initiatives. The top leadership is active and diversity initiatives are tied to the bottom line. Such organizations are involved in the communities they serve and have practices to meet the needs of diverse customer bases.

Keirsten Greggs

Keirsten is the founder of TRAP Recruiter, LLC, where she is committed to bridging the gap between the job seeker and organizations committed to attracting, hiring, developing and retaining diverse talent and building inclusive cultures.

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