It’s likely that I violated every Federal, State & City law meant to prevent discrimination based on race, age, religion, sex and gender during the 15+ years I worked as a placement counselor in employment agencies in Manhattan. Over the last years of crushing national unemployment, the public was shocked to discover what I had always known, that employers with jobs won’t even look at the résumés of the unemployed. It is the Catch-22 of the employment world that you cannot get a job unless you already have one; the underlying theory being that since no employer will ever get rid of a really good employee, there’s a reason you’re out of work, and it isn’t the economy.
It’s also hard to get a job if you’re overweight, proud of your ethnicity, have your own sense of style, are visibly religious, have a handicap or are simply perceived as not attractive enough. All of these reasons not to hire are based on visual clues. You’re out of the running before you begin because you didn’t look right in the first place. You are judged on all those things before you can say résumé.
From ’96-’08 I successfully placed hundreds of people in legal support staff capacities, everyone other than attorneys, in the top 100 law firms and corporate law departments. Most of the hundreds of positions I filled were legal assistants, paralegals, word processors and their associated hierarchies. I earned 50% of the agency fee, usually 20% of the annual starting salary, 90 days after the placement start date. I built a reputation with my clients, both candidates and firms, based on forthright communication, loyalty and unswerving belief in doing what’s right.
It was in my best interest to pressure candidates to accept bad offers, and then to coerce them into staying 90 days when the job turned out to be a bad fit, so that my firm would collect and pay me, but I just couldn’t do it. This greatly dismayed my bosses, who constantly called me a “social worker,” a term of opprobrium in what had been known as the employment services sector but has since morphed into the human capital services sector. I was viewed as a defective bleeding-heart capitalist because I refused to commodify my clients.
I was included in meetings with the brass because I produced, and was flattered to be one of few women invited. Once in the boardroom, however, I couldn’t wait to get out and stop wasting time in endless meetings where nothing was resolved and everything was scheduled to be “revisited” at the same time next week. My allegiance was always to my job-seeking applicants first and then to the firms that listed their positions and paid our fees. There were other counselors who felt as I did, but not nearly enough. The systems in place for getting applicants to jobs discriminate against all but the currently employed with flawless job histories.