Wells Fargo admits to gender and racial discrimination in hiring

Last week, Kristy Fercho, head of Wells Fargo’s Home Lending organization, openly admitted in a Bloomberg TV interview that her team practiced gender and racial discrimination in their hiring, at her guidance.

What Fercho considered a great example of the virtues of diverse hiring, actually came across as a candidate being denied a job only because he was a white and male.

Here are Fercho’s comments during the Bloomberg TV interview:

One of my direct reports had a job opening, and the job had been open for three weeks.

And he comes and he shares with me that lead candidate is a white male.

And I said “It’s been three weeks, shouldn’t you try hard enough, I want you to go and find a diverse candidate.”

And the search took four additional weeks, but he came back and he made the offer to a Hispanic female.

And he said to me “I have to thank you, I would have hired the white male.”

And he said “As a result, I have a more qualified, better candidate, and she happens to be diverse.”

And, that’s the opportunity with diversity, just don’t go for the easy fix, right, that’s what’s in front of you, but work harder to find the best talent.

And that’s what my commitment is, we are going to be the best leadership team in the mortgage industry, and we also are probably going to be the most diverse, because I am committed to creating an environment where people can do their best work, and it’s going to be a diverse team.

While Fercho seemed proud of this episode, the story she told felt wrong on so many levels.

The first and biggest problem is that had the lead candidate been “diverse”, rather than white and male, the search would have been over, and that candidate would have received the job.

Per Fercho’s statement, the search only continued because the candidate was not of the right gender and race.

While this story has a happy end, in that a “more qualified and better” candidate was found, this can hardly be considered even playing field. More time was not allocated after finding the “diverse” candidate in order to find a yet better one.

Second — Fercho apparently did not discuss any meaningful “diversity” aspects of the initial candidate — whether he had any unusual background or live circumstances, special experiences, and so forth. That was a clear miss of the interview process, as white males, like anyone else, can come from many diverse circumstances, including from backgrounds a lot more traumatic than most “diverse” candidates. Just consider those white males having been born and raised in the former Soviet Union, or in war-ravaged Middle-East, or in terrorism-plagued Ireland.

Per Fercho’s statement, none of this was explored — the candidate was white and male, and therefore more searching was needed.

Third — given that the “direct report” was told by his boss — Fercho — to go and find a diverse candidate, it is no surprise that the direct report would describe the diverse candidate as “more qualified and better candidate” to his boss.

With Fercho’s clearly expressed hiring priorities on gender and race, rather than experiences and competence, any direct report with reasonable corporate survival instincts would end up finding a hire that could plausibly be described as better and more competent, regardless of actual capabilities.

Finally — Fercho’s apparent basking in her direct report’s coming back to tell her “I have to thank you [for challenging me and thus helping make the harder but better decision]” is absolutely cringe-worthy.

While ambitious employees would attempt to ingratiate themselves with their managers with often insincere comments (of which this may or may not be an example), managers should be a bit less self-congratulatory and a bit more humble. They should also embrace their responsibility to foster a relationship of truth and safety with their direct reports , where employees can challenge their managers with hard questions and difficult considerations, rather than cozy up to an all-knowing and wise manager.

As to any prospective white and male applicants — prepare yourself to be the absolute best one out there. Also, figure out all the ways in which you are diverse, and learn to speak eloquently about them, so that no amount of extra time would help Wells Fargo hiring process find a stronger and more “diverse” alternative.

Or just look elsewhere.

Software engineer, investor, opinion(ated) writer.