“As an industry, we are great at supporting, cultivating and launching new and young designers. Even though we excel at mentoring young talent, we also tend to push them into doing things that may not be the right fit for them at the moment. Such as producing very expensive fashion shows or trying to show their collections around the world right at the start. We need to create a platform that is more sustainable for up-and-coming talent.” — Daniella Vitale, chief executive officer, Barneys New York
The above quote appeared in an ad that popped up in my LinkedIn feed recently. I guess the reason ads for Barneys are in my news feed is because I worked for them, on and off for nearly 20 years. In another time in the history of our country, that might have counted for something. Today, at least with the company in question, it means nothing.
In my last blog, written about a month ago, days after my last day at Barneys, I alluded to the possibility that I might write about what transpired to precipitate my exit. I am sharing it now. Sadly, I think a few people around my age have experienced similar situations and I want it to be acknowledged that I know in the eyes of some employers, especially ones that are painfully, sometimes embarrassingly chasing a youth market, I have no currency.
I want to start with the good news. I am doing fine, financially and otherwise. I have work prospects and I am enjoying my downtime. I love spending more time with my dogs and taking long walks and watching Noah Centineo movies on Netflix. I won’t lie, there is an aspect of sour grapes in me sharing the following, but that’s only part of the story. There was a time when I wished things could have been addressed in a way in which I could have stayed at Barneys, but I don’t feel that way anymore.
So, in July, I was talking with one of my fellow hosts about our job. We were both kvetching a bit about how much was asked of us in relation to our compensation. My co-worker, in her early 20s, opined, “I can’t believe we have to do all of this for $XX an hour.” “I know,” I agreed and then it hit me what she was saying, “Wait, you make $XX an hour?” “Yes,” she said. “I don’t make that, ” I told her, in shock. I had worked for the company since 1999 and this very capable, but very young woman was offered a higher pay rate at her date of hire. “I thought you at least made that, I’m sorry Ray.” She could hear in my voice just how leveled I was by this piece of information. She also volunteered that our other fellow hostess, another young woman in her twenties was also hired at the same pay rate, $XX an hour, despite have no restaurant experience at all. No Beverly Hills experience, no OpenTable, no restaurant.
I had been told by the general manager of the store, the head of human resources and the general manager of the restaurant at different times within the last two years that the company was trying to pay me more money but they did not have the budget for it.
They were able to find the budget to hire two attractive young women to do the same job as me and pay them more. And yes, I was also imparted with the task of training them both and no, I did not receive extra compensation for those services.
Within 30 minutes of finding out that these young women were paid more than me, I sent an email giving my two weeks notice. Neither the general manager of the restaurant or the general manager of the store made an offer to correct this wage discrimination. They vaguely thanked me for my time and wished me well.
When I spoke to human resources the next day, I asked for someone to tell me why these young women had been paid more than me. In the two weeks I still worked there, not one person gave me an answer to my fairly simple question. In that human resources meeting, I also recounted an incident that transpired in December of 2017, around the time my father was dying. I came to work on a Saturday and the restaurant manager gave me a white envelope with “Ray from WME” written in her handwriting. Enclosed was $150. William Morris Endeavor is a talent agency that is across the street that our restaurant always made it a point to take good care of. If we were booked at 1:00 and a WME assistant called at 12:45 to get their boss a great table, I always found that boss a great table. Anyway, I asked my manager where the original envelope was. She told me she OPENED THE ENVELOPE and redistributed the money because the other hosts didn’t get envelopes. I told her that what she did, opening a card that was addressed to me, was illegal. She said she was sorry if I was offended and I said it wasn’t a matter of offensiveness, she broke a law. Coldly, she told me that there had been $200 in the envelope and she would give me the other $50. I said, “Thank you.”
I went back to work and 15 minutes later, she returned to the host stand, red-faced. “After some thought, I have decided you are in the right and I was in the wrong.” (Really? You think?) She told me that the original amount was not $200 but $250 and that she would get the other $100 to me. She apologized and I accepted her apology. One week later, she still had not volunteered the rest of the money so I texted her a reminder. “Oh Thank you, I’ll have it for you tomorrow.” And she did.
I will never know how much money was in the original envelope. She changed the story, first $200, then $250 so really, it’s anyone’s guess.
As I said, I shared these events with human resources two weeks before my last day, and not one person I spoke with or emailed seemed even a bit concerned that a manager representing Barneys New York would open an employee’s private mail. Not to mention change the story about its contents.
So, that’s it. That’s my exit story. Or most of it, anyway. I thought some of you might find it interesting. I won’t lie, there has been an odd decompression and processing that has occurred in the last month. What do I value about me? What do any of us value about ourselves? We are taught that we are failures unless we have a great job that pays lots of money. Not only was I not paid a great wage, a 21-year-old was paid more than me. And the company was unwilling to match that 21 year old’s pay rate. All of my life experiences, my remembering faces and names and favorite tables, my thoughtfulness, my loyalty to the company, meant nothing at the end of the day.
Today, I caught up with an old friend who had not heard the story. “So, what happened?!?!?” she asked. We had not seen each other in months and she only knew that I had quit my job. I told the story, spent some time on the damning aspects, laughed about the lighter details, and I easily moved on to talk about other topics. More important things like family and travels and passion projects and Noah Centineo. Three weeks ago, it would have been all I could talk about. So, you know, baby steps.
Or old man steps.