Mechelle Jacobs is a rarity in her profession and the community she serves.
The 53-year-old Black woman is a Bank of America financial center manager in Gilbert, Arizona, a booming, wealthy suburb east of Phoenix.
Black women, like Jacobs, account for just more than 4% of all management jobs among six of the largest U.S. banks, according to employment records obtained and compiled by USA TODAY.
Further, she leads a branch in a community of roughly 250,000 residents where 73% of the population is white. That’s 13 percentage points higher than the national average, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Further, just 3% of Gilbert residents are Black, compared to 12% of the nation.
While hardly any of her peers or the bank’s customers look like her, Jacobs said she hasn’t experienced overt racism within Bank of America or in Gilbert.
“I love everybody who walks into the center,” Jacobs said. “I’m excited to be here and that they have given me this opportunity. I’m not lacking in anything.”
Jacobs said Bank of America has set her up for success, and she hopes to continue moving up the corporate ladder to become a trainer of new employees.
Her positive experience is critical to an industry with a long history of lending discrimination that has contributed to the racial wealth gap in the United States.
Bank of America, for example, in 2011 agreed to pay $335 million to resolve allegations from the U.S. Justice Department that its Countrywide unit engaged in a widespread pattern of discrimination against qualified Black and Hispanic borrowers. It was, at the time, the largest settlement in history over residential fair lending practices.
But the true test of whether the racial wealth gap can narrow will be if Jacobs can punch a hole in the glass ceiling that has kept Black and Hispanic talent – especially women – from scaling to the top of Bank of America, where 81% of executive jobs are filled by white men and women, despite accounting for just 64% of the U.S. workforce.
The picture is not much different at five other major financial institutions in the Standard & Poor’s 100, a stock market index of some of the country’s most valuable companies, that released their hiring practices to USA TODAY.
Those companies have historically been led by white people. Even today, USA TODAY found they hold 73% to 87% of all executive jobs at Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, US Bancorp, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley.
USA TODAY’s findings are based on EEO-1 reports, which detail the gender and race of workers a company employs in 10 major job categories ranging from “laborers” to “executives.” Companies with more than 100 employees file these documents annually with the Labor Department’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Federal officials will not release those records to the public without companies’ permission, citing privacy protections in the Civil Rights Act. An ongoing civil suit filed by Reveal, a nonprofit investigative journalism outlet, challenges the legality of hiding these records from the public.
Since last year’s murder of George Floyd, many large publicly traded companies have decided to disclose the data as a way to show the public and shareholders their hiring practices and to demonstrate a commitment to diversity.
Wells Fargo told USA TODAY it would publicly release its EEO-1 later this year.
Last year, the San Francisco-based company came under intense scrutiny over comments from CEO Charles Scharf, a white man, in September.
He said in a memo, according to Reuters, that Wells Fargo missed its diversity goals because of a limited pool of Black talent to recruit from, prompting a sharp backlash.
Scharf later apologized, walking back his comments, conceding they were insensitive.
Wells Fargo in August 2020 agreed to pay $7.8 million in back wages and interest after the U.S. Department of Labor alleged the bank discriminated against 34,193 Black applicants for banking, customer sales and service, and administrative support positions and 308 female applicants for…