Culture and Talent

Wells Fargo’s Monica Cole: Banks should rethink diversity training

  • Diversity initiatives are great for raising awareness, but do little to make actual changes in a company's culture or its bottom line.
  • Women climbing the corporate ladder have made a lot of progress, but sometimes it still takes a man to act as a change agent.
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Wells Fargo’s Monica Cole: Banks should rethink diversity training

In a midtown hotel in New York, 220 female bankers from the country’s biggest institutions including Bank of America, PNC, and U.S. Bank gathered on Wednesday to talk about battling unconscious bias.

They were asked to raise their hands if they had some kind of diversity or inclusion program in their organizations. All hands went up. Unconscious bias or diversity training? All hands stayed up. Events for underrepresented groups like women of color or the LGBTQ community? All hands still stayed up. Blind resume review? All but a few hands lowered.

Organized leadership and community building has done a lot in raising awareness of the importance of diversity, but little to make actual changes in company processes that eventually do show an impact both in company culture and the bottom line.

To make those changes, leaders will have to admit that bias exists. Even though they raise awareness and go through training, at the end of the day, it can be scary to be the person that signs off on real change, said Monica Cole, Wells Fargo’s group head of North region middle market banking, at the Women in Banking LEAD conference.

“As hiring managers, we have to have the courage to not hire a rainmaker who does not believe in our values across all people,” she said. “That’s very hard to do when you have numbers to make; when you’ve had your eye on someone in the market that you know is right. It takes a lot of courage to say ‘[that’s] not the kind of person I want in my organization because he doesn’t reflect the values I believe in.’”

Wells Fargo’s global workforce totals 269,000, of which 56 percent are women and 42 percent are “ethnically and racially diverse.” The bank has long thought itself a champion for women on boards, with seven women on its 16-member board, the leader among large U.S. commercial banks with a 44 percent ratio.

In its hiring process, Cole said, Wells makes sure the interview committee represents the broader employee base to include both men and women, people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, midlevel employees as well as top level employees.

Like most banks, Wells Fargo has a number of networks and councils for minorities, including employees who are women; who are Asian, black, Latin, Middle Eastern or Native American Indian; who have “diverse abilities,” or are veterans; and for members of the LGBTQ community.  CEO Tim Sloan also chairs a Enterprise Diversity and Inclusion Council responsible for identifying D&I goals and creating plans.

Leaders at the bank also receive a quarterly diversity scorecard, to measure progress and create accountability.

But despite how far women have progressed to get a seat at the table, sometimes it still takes a man at the table to push things through. It’s the difference between tackling conscious bias and unconscious bias, where women may have a seat at the table, but not necessarily a voice.

“Oftentimes the person that’s the head of D&I tends to be a person of color, and often, a woman. But when you have a white heterosexual male that’s invested in the process at the table with all of us and accountable in terms of financial impact, it starts to make a real difference.”

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