‘Bizarre and uncomfortable’: NYC mayor requests headshots of city job applicants. Hire-by-looks?

Along with applications to fill the many vacant positions in his city, New York City Mayor Eric Adams wants to see headshots of potential new hires for jobs that include an assistant commissioner and a departmental press secretary.

The Big Apple has an unusually large number of job openings, according to a report from Politico, and, while Adams’ aides insist the photos are simply a way for the mayor to recognize his 330,000-strong workforce, a number of city officials argue it is a blatant push for diversity.

Politico interviewed nine current and past city officials — many of whom support a diversified workforce. They allege the practice of attaching photos to job applications has already resulted in staffing decisions that are influenced more by race and ethnicity than they are by merit.

 

Roughly a dozen high-ranking city employees were instructed in two emails from Adams’ staffers to include pictures of their top picks for the mayor’s review. The emails were obtained and reviewed by Politico.

On April 19, one of Adams’ aides emailed a template of existing photos and job descriptions for top positions, along with a note that read, “Flagging that the Mayor would love all agencies upper leadership in this type of style.”

“Clarifying also that the avatars in the attached should be actual photos as the Mayor likes to begin to recognize folks faces,” the aide added.

The inclusion of headshots is a new hiring protocol that has spread across several city agencies, according to officials who wished to remain anonymous, and, many contend, it’s a move to diversify New York’s workforce. As Politico notes, diversity is a priority with Mayor Adams. The majority of his City Hall deputies are women and people of color.

“There’s no other way to interpret it,” said one high-ranking city official who recalled one employee in Adams’ office of appointments that the mayor’s wish was for his agencies to hire staffers who “reflect the constituencies we serve.”

According to a City Hall employee who recently left the job, “everyone” knew the mayor’s intent.

“Everyone knew what it was. There was no question,” the former employee stated. “It was the first thing everybody said: ‘We’re going to start counting complexions now,’”

One of the group emails sent by a City Hall employee on April 15 is titled “Hiring Slide template” and includes a template for a team organizational chart that includes spaces for existing staffers’ names, titles, and a headshot.

The template was based on a slide of a proposed team that Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi shared with Adams during a recent meeting to discuss hiring.

“The Mayor really liked the org chart and he asked that all DM teams use this as a template moving forward as it relates to team structures,” the email read. “I’ve attached a template here for all of you — I’m happy to help for slide design if you need support in this. Note, the avatar are space for you to provide a photo of the team member.”

According to two agency employees, the applicant may not even be aware that their photo is being pasted to their application. Tasked with hiring staff, the employees said they scroll through such social media sites as LinkedIn to locate headshots of potential new hires and paste them into their organizational charts. If they can find a photo online, they are not required to ask the job candidate to provide one.

It’s a time-consuming process.

“The whole hiring process this City Hall set up is difficult enough, and the photo requirement just takes it from hard to bizarre and uncomfortable,” said yet another anonymous high-ranking agency official.

The practice of requesting photos from applications has already been addressed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“Employers should not ask for a photograph of an applicant. If needed for identification purposes, a photograph may be obtained after an offer of employment is made and accepted,” according to the agency’s website.

And while there is nothing that legally prevents officials from searching for photos online, lawyer Jeanne Christensen, a partner at Wigdor Law LLP, said it would be better if the pictures were included with the applicants’ blessings.

“I would say you better be sure you have their permission and they’re doing this voluntarily,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Adams insists there is nothing nefarious behind his request.

“Nothing I think is more disrespectful than when people work for you on your executive team and you don’t know who they are. I should know my employees, I should walk up to them and say thank you, I should know what they look like,” he said when asked about the policy at an unrelated press conference in Queens on Thursday.

“Now, for those who have other reasons that I decide that I want an org chart, that’s up to them,” Adams continued.

“You know, a lot of people just start their day with saying, ‘Let me see what I can think hateful about,’” he added. “You know, I start my day off saying, ‘Wow, I’m lucky to be the mayor of New York City.’”

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