Juneteenth For The Future: How Wells Fargo Is Striving To Make Long-Lasting Change For Communities Of Color
Wells Fargo is committed to empowering its team and celebrating different cultures and diverse experiences.
June 24, 2021 at 5:33 pm
Last year, we saw a rallying call for recognition of Juneteenth across many industries, with a significant number of companies officially acknowledging and celebrating it for the first time since its inception.
This year, as Juneteenth cements its place during this inflection point in the nation, we’re taking a look at what it means to leaders of color in the financial industry. With its long-established history of undervaluing or outright rejecting people of color, the financial industry, in particular, has been charged with taking an honest look at what equity means.
Many institutions, like Wells Fargo, are using this time of change to create a lasting positive impact and not just correct past mistakes made but affect what change looks like for the future.
We sat down with three Black leaders at Wells Fargo, who shared their experiences in the financial industry. They also gave insights into what the banking leader is doing to support its diversity and inclusion efforts and empower Black professionals and the communities they serve.
The Black Leaders and Changemakers at Wells Fargo
Head of Diverse Segments, Corporate and Investment Banking
Danielle's career journey with Wells Fargo began when she was an 18-year-old INROADS intern at First Union in the Corporate and Investment Bank — an institute acquired by Wachovia, which was then acquired by Wells Fargo. After graduating from Duke University, she began working at Wells Fargo officially.
Starting as an analyst in the Interest Derivatives Group, she rose through the firm to become Managing Director in the interest derivatives and foreign exchange world. Most recently, she took on the role of head of Diverse Segments for Wells Fargo’s Corporate and Investment Bank, which has allowed her to maximize positive outcomes for clients. She’s also a proud member of Wells Fargo's senior African American executive forum, which focuses on talent development and diverse partner engagement.
With a background in engineering and decision analysis, Darlene got her start in data science and found her way to economic empowerment. She joined Wells Fargo because she knew the banking leader had the platform and resources to drive meaningful societal change, particularly in marginalized communities.
In her current role in Social Impact and Sustainability, Darlene and her team focus on opening pathways to economic advancement for Black and Indigenous individuals and other people of color, as well as low- and moderate-income communities. The goal is to increase financial inclusion and access to safe, affordable banking products and credit; reduce debt; build financial resiliency; and drive savings and wealth-building behavior.
Darlene and her team are also examining systemic issues that perpetuate wealth inequality in marginalized communities. Although still in its early stages, Darlene helped launch the bank’s 10-year Banking Inclusion Initiative in May to ensure more people can access affordable banking services.
Lu Reames, J.D.
Lu has been with Wells Fargo for 19 years. While working for the Maryland Attorney General’s office supporting the economic development department, he worked closely with major banks and developed his affinity for financial services.
After working at a small brokerage firm in Atlanta, he later took a job with Wachovia Securities in Richmond, Virginia, which later became Wells Fargo Advisors.
Currently, Lu manages a compliance team under Enterprise Risk that provides governance and program effectiveness coverage for entities under the Wealth & Investment Management line of business. He’s also the Enterprise President of the bank’s Black and African American Connection employee resource network (ERN). His aim is to leverage the ERN to help bring Wells Fargo’s vision of diversity, equity and inclusion to fruition.
The Significance of Juneteenth
Celebrating Juneteenth is a pretty big deal for Black people, especially now. How has your relationship with the holiday changed over time? How have you seen its evolution in the professional sense?
Danielle Squires: Juneteenth is an extremely important holiday, and I have seen it evolve. I grew up in the Northeast in a Caribbean family. While Juneteenth was known, it wasn’t always celebrated the way it could have been. As I’ve grown older and moved further south, the celebrations and understanding have grown greater.
As a nation, we need to come to terms with the idea that emancipation was only a first step. If we understood that, and what Juneteenth represents, we would make a better correlation with diversity efforts, especially in the financial service industry. Juneteenth tells us that just because one area made strides doesn’t mean it pervades an entire nation — or organization, for that matter. There are pockets in the middle that need the strength of leadership and our own version of the Union Army to ride in and be more effective.
Darlene Goins: I didn’t learn about the Tulsa Race Massacre or Juneteenth until my adult years. As I learned more, I started to look at Juneteenth as the start of true independence for Black people. White supremacy is so woven into our structures, including education. Now we’re seeing efforts in many states to further erase that history. It’s going to take a lot of very intentional efforts to build a more just and inclusive society.
Juneteenth is a way for me to renew my commitment to building that justice into society. In a professional sense, I am really grateful that Wells Fargo leans into this history. There was a time when corporations didn’t really weigh in on social issues, and I’m glad to see that’s changing.
Lu Reames: Juneteenth has become one of the most important holidays for me because it lends so strongly to the mantra that none of us are free unless we are all free. The Juneteenth observance began in response to the physical freedom of enslaved Black people in Texas. Now [it] also symbolically represents other freedoms, including everything from Black business development to other representations of economic freedom, which I think accounts for the evolution and increased popularity of Juneteenth within the Black community.
What are some ways you’ve seen Wells Fargo encourage conversations and take action toward inclusion? What are some steps that more companies can take to make a real path forward in the fight for inclusivity?
Danielle Squires: Some of the things Wells Fargo has done specifically around inclusion is create senior counsels across different diversity dimensions. It provides a strong unified showing of Black excellence in the firm — to each other, those above us and to junior team members. I’ve always thought of “United We Stand.” Uniting these groups brings power to the message and power to the truth.
Wells Fargo has done a good job within the past year of encouraging conversation and mandating that every leader, irrespective of ethnicity or other diverse dimensions, be inclusive.
Darlene Goins: I do believe Wells Fargo is working hard to integrate diversity, equity and inclusion into all aspects of our work. I am definitely hearing DE&I come up more naturally during meetings where critical decisions are being made. But there is more work to be done.
We really need to examine all our practices and policies and identify any inherent bias, put plans into practice and implement them. And we need to create a safe space for employees to raise concerns. For my part, I’ve learned to use my voice and engage in courageous conversations so we can tackle the issues.
Lu Reames: Operating Committee members are speaking directly with diverse leaders, and the result has been powerful and very impactful. The proximity of ERN leaders to our senior leaders has resulted in prolific candor, trust in the leadership and commitment to change. More companies should elevate the importance of ERNs and be more influential in helping them develop.
Creating a Legacy of Black Leadership at Wells Fargo
Can you talk a little bit about your experience as a person of color in a leadership role within the financial industry?
Danielle Squires: Throughout my career, I’ve always considered myself to be a leader in doing what’s best for our clients, my group and not only those coming behind me but those beside me. As leaders, we carry heavy and important responsibilities to do the best we can and show the world and our teams that there’s great strength, courage and excellence in Black leadership.
Darlene Goins: Things have definitely changed over my 25 years in the industry. I remember early in my career, during a multi-day client engagement, I was asked to lead a group of all white men. One of the people later told me he had initially second-guessed my ability to lead such a complex project. I was young, but there was also a racial dynamic at play.
In 2015, I was invited to be a keynote speaker at a banking conference in South Africa. I was excited and honored but also wasn’t sure how they would respond to me, as a Black leader in the industry, in a country that had struggled with apartheid. It turned out my session was highly rated, and at the end of the presentation, bankers lined up to speak with me.
Lu Reames: There have been significant challenges for people of color within leadership because many of us have not moved upward as much as we would like and certainly not in an equitable way. That’s been my experience in the past.
Right now, I’m very optimistic. I am part of the Black Executive Forum, where CEO Charlie Scharf and Kleber Santos, the head of Diverse Segments, Representation and Inclusion, are engaging senior Black and African American, Hispanic and Latino leaders. This forum has done a lot of heavy lifting to bring good ideas on board. So I’m optimistic about where we’re going as a company, and I’m hearing the same from other Black and African American colleagues. Folks are feeling really giddy about our future, and rightfully so.
How would you describe diversity in the financial services industry, and what changes could be made to improve that?
Danielle Squires: When it comes to diversity in the industry, there is product, services or diversity of people. Statistics show that diverse teams, experiences and thoughts yield better outcomes. I would also attest that you better manage risk. Diversity of people and thought in the industry means you’re ready to progress and combat any challenge. And we certainly need to see more of it in every position in every bank.
Darlene Goins: Diversity is too heavily weighted toward frontline staff, and there aren’t enough diverse leaders in senior roles. We need to do more to invest in professional development and career progression for diverse talent. We also need to evaluate our policies and practices to ensure there’s no inherent bias built into the system. And we have to be intentional about these efforts, otherwise, the unconscious bias inherent in many of our systems is going to prevail.
Lu Reames: Diversity within the financial services industry, especially for people of color, has been awful. Many companies have done a decent job of recruiting, especially at the lower levels, but they’ve failed miserably at developing, promoting and retaining that talent. Many of these companies have to poach talent from ones that developed their people in order to satisfy diversity goals at the mid-senior levels.
Looking Ahead to a More Diverse Future
What do you think is important for people to know about as we look ahead to the future of diversity and representation in the financial industry?
Danielle Squires: We’re all on a journey around diversity, equity and inclusion, and every individual, group or organization will be at different stages. Now is the right time to look introspectively and be ready to move ahead in the confidence that the work one does today to achieve absolute financial and business inclusivity will be the definitive reason for success tomorrow.
Darlene Goins: Oftentimes, I may be the only Black person in the room. Many times I may raise an idea, and it’s not until a white counterpart says it that it will be heard. Or I raise an issue during a meeting, and it’s not until afterward that I receive emails thanking me for speaking up. We just need others to speak up too. If someone witnesses someone re-stating a person of color’s idea, they should point that out. We need vocal allies. And on the flip side, having just one Black person weigh-in is insufficient. We need to have diversity of thought at the table.
Lu Reames: The painful past notwithstanding, I am focused on continuing to build a new and better company that is starting to unfold. I positively believe the true narrative is about the great direction Wells Fargo is headed rather than where we have been. Please stay tuned.
Wells Fargo is committed to empowering its team and celebrating different cultures and diverse experiences. Learn more about what it’s doing to build a more inclusive future for employees here.
This editorial is brought to you in partnership with Wells Fargo.