No Gender Bias Seen By Wells Fargo -- WSJ

Date : 11/10/2018 @ 3:02AM
Source : Dow Jones News

No Gender Bias Seen By Wells Fargo -- WSJ

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By Emily Glazer 

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (November 10, 2018).

Wells Fargo & Co. has ended its investigation into alleged gender bias in its wealth management division, people familiar with the matter said.

Jon Weiss, the unit's top executive, told some managers on a call last week that "there is unequivocally no gender bias" in the unit, the people said.

The monthslong investigation, which The Wall Street Journal previously reported, stemmed from the allegations of female senior executives who said women in Wells Fargo's wealth management division are systematically belittled or blocked from promotions. The bank expanded the investigation's scope after the Journal's story, when an influx of additional gender-bias complaints were lodged, the people said.

The allegations and investigation show how the #MeToo movement has become part of a broader discussion about whether women are being fairly promoted into senior roles in a variety of industries, including finance. The allegations are a particular burden for Wells Fargo because it is still dealing with the fallout of a sales-practice scandal that erupted in 2016. Since then, legal and regulatory problems have cropped up across all its major business units, including wealth management.

Wells Fargo spokeswoman Kathleen Leary said the bank values all its employees and takes seriously any allegations raised by them. "We ensure that concerns raised are thoroughly and objectively investigated, while taking measures to protect confidentiality," she said.

Wells Fargo spent months interviewing dozens of women for the investigation. Some executives have said part of the investigation focused on at least one formal human-resources complaint against private bank head Jay Welker, the Journal previously reported. They said Mr. Welker, who is also head of the wealth-management division, often called women "girls" or told them to put their "big girl panties on."

Mr. Welker didn't respond to a request for comment.

On Tuesday, Wells Fargo announced in an internal memo that Mr. Welker will retire at the end of March. The memo didn't name a successor. Mr. Welker said in his own memo that he had chosen to retire.

Mr. Welker reports to Mr. Weiss, who is the head of wealth and investment management. Mr. Weiss said on the call with managers last week that there was no gender bias from anyone on his leadership team, the people said.

Mr. Weiss, in a statement through Ms. Leary, said he recently spoke to hundreds of managers in the unit and his "goal was to affirm that there is no tolerance for gender bias in our organization."

Mr. Weiss added that he takes diversity seriously, and if employees have an experience that is inconsistent with the bank's values they should "raise their hand, or contact me directly."

At an internal town hall Thursday, Mr. Weiss mentioned "diversity and inclusion" several times and said it was a topic that top executives spent a lot of time on.

A main grievance mentioned by many female executives is that the majority of top positions in wealth management are held by men. Female executives said qualified women had recently been turned down for several top roles that went to men.

Many viewed the recent promotion of Susan Mayo as a win. Last month the bank named her as senior managing director for the Southwest region, according to an internal bank memo. She previously applied for that role in another region, according to people familiar with the process. The memo said her leadership is "instrumental in our Diversity & Inclusion efforts."

Ms. Mayo didn't respond to a request for comment.

Wells Fargo's internal investigation lasted several months, longer than the typical time of about six weeks, the people said. Four different human resources executives led the investigation at different points, essentially starting over each time a new person took over, the people said.

Ms. Leary said in a statement: "Once an investigation is complete we are committed to taking any appropriate action." She added that the bank is committed to promoting diversity and inclusion in all aspects of its business.

Gender-bias issues in the unit have been kept private in the past.

Around 2014, a female executive made claims of gender discrimination, including that she was underpaid for her role, and sought hundreds of thousands of dollars in alleged damages, according to an internal bank email. She settled out of court with Wells Fargo, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Michael Franklin, an employment lawyer at Wells Fargo, emailed David Kowach, then head of Wells Fargo Advisors' private client group, about the dispute in 2014. "I know this is frustrating, and she is not the type who any of us like contemplating getting anything," Mr. Franklin wrote, according to the email reviewed by the Journal.

The woman no longer works for Wells Fargo.

Mr. Franklin and Mr. Kowach didn't respond to requests for comment. Mr. Kowach was recently promoted to oversee both Wells Fargo Advisors and Wealth Brokerage Services divisions, according to an internal memo.

Mr. Weiss, who is Mr. Kowach's boss, met on Oct. 23 with roughly a dozen female regional managing directors who had expressed frustration with how women in the unit were treated. The women, Mr. Weiss and a human resources executive gathered in a private dining room at the Westin Hotel in Minneapolis, the people said.

The investigation results weren't discussed and the women didn't know it would soon be concluded, the people said.

Write to Emily Glazer at emily.glazer@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 10, 2018 02:47 ET (07:47 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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