It was mid-July in New York, and I was still on the job hunt.
After plodding through multiple boroughs and interviews in a withering heatwave, the blazer I had borrowed from Mom was bordering on pungent. My self pep talks, meanwhile, were losing steam; I had gone from barking the usual litany of accomplishments at the bathroom mirror to spookily staring back at an increasingly resigned and unemployed reflection. Granted, I was being too impatient. Google, the proverbial handhold, reassured me time and again that the average job seeker invests two to six months before landing that first, entry-level position. Still, as I scurried through the marbled lobby of an employment agency in Midtown, my relief was palpable. Noting that my ears popped in the elevator, I even felt a little smug that this swanky recruiting firm had performed its most basic function of responding to my resume submission.
An expansive canvas hung on the wall behind the reception desk, a red splatter of paint contrasting nicely with the weighty oak desk below. Bradley, an associate recruiter, greeted me at the door with practiced enthusiasm and a toothy grin. I found all of this encouraging, save for the giant lion pelt that we circumnavigated before stepping into his office. As I recapped my desire to break into the publishing industry, Bradley’s chipper demeanor started to flag; his particular agency specialized in the legal and financial sectors, so I was swiftly informed that there were few leads for my career goals at the time. My communication skills, though, were duly noted, and I was asked if I would be open to being a recruiter for the agency itself. Up until that point, the thought had never crossed my mind, but in that moment of weakness my hunger for a publishing job gave way to the hunger for any job.
So I lied, opting to cast a wider net that I did not really need. However, halfway through my vigorous nodding and questions about Bradley’s work culture, I recognized the rare opportunity to investigate. Salaries, professional contacts, and the thrill of cultivating certain skills were influential components of the job hunt, but my friends and I were also keen on working in corporate cultures that prioritized diversity. Depending on the company, substantive information on diversity initiatives was hard to come by. Many websites had mission statements that promoted “tolerance” and “unique perspectives”, but, coupled with asides about “diversity events” and “community involvement”, these buzzwords felt scanty at best. Show, do not tell, fellow English majors, I thought as we scoped these sites for more tangible examples of what such events would actually entail.
In 2016, The Guardian reported on a survey which revealed that American publishing was “blindingly white and female.” With 79% of staff being white and 78% being women, the remaining 7.2% of Asians/Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders, 5.5% of Hispanics/Latinos/Mexicans, and 3.5% of black/African American staff did not bode well for the industry’s supposed output of diverse content. The report mentions that publishing is not alone when it comes to its lack of diversity, especially seeing as how “all media, including film, television, and theatre are having similar conversations” about it (not to mention, of course, the sobering statistics for women in the sciences and engineering disciplines.) Still, it is profoundly disturbing that these mediums, which are particularly responsible for representing the full scope of the human condition, are failing to actually staff the majority of voices that would enable them to do such. Furthermore, even the women privileged enough to have garnered success in the industry can only go so far; “look,” another Guardian article explains, “at the magical “c-circle of group chief executive, group chief operating officer and group chief finance officer — where the real power lies — and women are notably absent.”
Keeping these issues in mind, I wanted to learn more about the power that Bradley potentially wielded. Facebook, he had proudly mentioned, regularly relied on his agency throughout their talent acquisition process, so this potential only seemed grander from thereon out. What steps were this recruiter and his powerful agency taking to reach out to women like me? To women of color? To people who invest in their classes, student clubs, student loans, scholarships, etc. but can not afford to work unpaid internships, which so often are the springboards to the paid internships that basically guarantee those coveted full-time offers? What does being a “qualified candidate” really entail then? Especially in a world where resumes with white-sounding names receive 50% percent more callbacks than the ones with black-sounding names, despite their sharing almost identical credentials?
And what does it mean when Bradley the recruiter is no longer smiling at all, because, apparently, I had asked the wrong questions? What do I do with the pregnant pause, followed by the bemused response that, though he appreciates my “creative spin” on recruiting, the overall process is “pretty black and white"? That it is his job is to simply give the companies he represents the candidates they are looking for? And what if I believe that his discomfort as a recruiter around diversity-related questions is anything but simple? That, in his line of work, he is supposed to be anything but uncomfortable, anything but the person who conflates these pertinent questions with the indulgent musings of some unfettered creative “type”?
And what does he do after he determines that, given my “interests”, recruiting probably would not be a good fit for me? His smile returns, and he ushers me back to the reception area.
We exchange thank you’s, but I am not thankful.
Sofiya Joseph is a Copy Editor at The Rational Creature. Email her with questions.