A two inch insert in today’s Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (2/18/17) indicates on average, referred applicants are 15 times more likely to be hired than job applicants who submit on their own. We want to believe the most qualified person gets the job, and insist that’s true when it comes to us and our relatives and friends. Yet we’re quick to point out out it’s not what you know but who you know when things don’t work in our favor.

Our connections include business associates, faith-based contacts, golf and workout partners, fellow board members, social club  associates and neighbors…all largely homogeneous and segregated from those who are different from us. It’s one of the perks of being part of the dominant culture. But when such advantages come our way, disadvantage comes to others.

If an applicant’s high school address or college ‘reputation’ or zip code is predominately urban, minority in make-up, or of a different socioeconomic status, it sends a message.  While opportunities afforded to me insist that working hard is the way to get ahead, other factors (perks, privileges and contacts) mask the likelihood of  getting a foot in the door. Gender, names on application, and a host of other ‘coded’ indicators reduce my chances of employment or getting an interview by 15 to 1. Statistics by race and gender bear this out, as do salary comparisons for those fortunate enough to break through systemic barriers.

The myth of a level playing field opens doors of opportunity for some while ignoring its consequence. “After all,” we say. “I worked hard, played by the rules. Why not give a leg up to my son or daughter or brother-in-law who deserves a leg up, too,  just like I did. It’s only fair.” Or is it.