Why Workplaces Should Have Gender Neutral Dress Codes (With Infographic!)
We need gender neutral dress codes in the workplace. If you don't yet agree with that statement, look no farther than a 55-page presentation given to women executives at Ernst & Young in a June 2018 training.
The presentation, which made headlines last month when an offended participant leaked it to the Huffington Post, reinforced gendered stereotypes of how women should dress and present themselves at work. Some highlights, which are actually lowlights in terms of equality in the workforce:
- A list of "appearance blunders" for women to avoid, including no-nos like "too-short skirts," "plunging neckline[s]," "bottle blonde," "flashy jewelry"
- Outfit and grooming suggestions to "minimize distractions from your skills [sic] set" like "good haircut, manicured nails, and well-cut attire"
- Advice on how to dress: "don't flaunt your body — sexuality scrambles the mind"
The women, there to invest in their professional development, were not learning how to be better leaders or combat sexist stereotypes at work, but instead were being lectured to about what to wear and how to groom themselves.
While the presentation wasn't the official E&Y dress code, it does highlight bias and assumptions made around gender that women have to manage. And this particular training focused only on the male-female binary. Employees who identify as transgender or nonbinary might feel even more burdened by dress code policies based on gender.
Imagine how much more productive all employees, regardless of gender, could be, if they weren't focused on avoiding dress code policing.
Traditional gender-based dress codes can also discriminate on the basis of race. Many grooming guidelines for women, including rules on acceptable haircuts, are extra burdens for black employees, particularly those who want to wear their hair in natural styles. In 2010, Chastity Jones got a job offer to be a customer service representative from Catastrophe Management Solutions—but the offer was contingent on her cutting off her locs. When she refused, the company took back the job offer, and when she sued, with the help of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, she lost her case in 2013 and again in 2016, when her appeal was dismissed.
And beyond forcing women of color to maintain their hair in a way that's deemed acceptable, gender-based dress codes can also discriminate against people of certain religions. Employees whose faiths keep them from cutting their hair or necessitate that they wear certain clothing (including head coverings) shouldn't be forced to adapt their beliefs to what their employer deems professionally appropriate for a woman at work.
The possibility for gender-, race-, and faith-based discrimination posed by prescriptive employee dress codes has led the Human Rights Campaign to recommend that "if an employer has a dress code, it should modify it to avoid gender stereotypes and enforce it consistently. Requiring men to wear suits and women to wear skirts or dresses, while legal, is based on gender stereotypes. Alternatively, codes that require attire professionally appropriate to the office or unit in which an employee works are gender-neutral."
Okay, So Gender Neutral Dress Codes Sound Good. What Do They Look Like?
In their simplest (which, in my opinion, also means best) form, gender neutral dress codes at the workplace can take the form of General Motors' dress policy. When now-CEO Mary Barra was VP of global human resources for the automotive giant, she replaced their 10-page dress code with two words: "Dress appropriately."
In the article linked above, the author explains why Barra's dress code works so well: "She avoid[ed] assumptions, instead choosing to trust her employees' judgment," which in turn "empower[ed] all employees" and was "particularly impactful for women."
For workplaces that need more specificity about what employees can wear, HR should follow in the footsteps of other institutions that have successfully adopted gender-neutral dress codes. Namely, high schools.
After a wave of protests, social media outrage, and thoughtful advocating, several schools have revamped their dress codes, which tended to put undue burden on female students. New guidelines apply to all students, regardless of their gender. Instead of specifying the length of skirts versus shorts or the width of a cami strap versus a tank top, a Virginia high school's new gender-neutral dress code simply defines what must be covered: "clothing [must] cover areas from one armpit across to the other armpit, down to approximately three to four inches in length to the upper thighs."
What does that look like at work?
Spell out specific dress code rules by article of clothing, not by gender, use non-gendered pronouns, and make sure that any grooming guidelines could apply to anyone. Don't place burdens on anyone based on their gender, and try to empower employees to manage their own appearance in accordance with professional expectations.
For business casual workplaces, try this, adapted from Forbes: "Employees should dress in business casual attire, which could include casual slacks and skirts, collared shirts, blouses, or sweaters. Inappropriate attire includes sportswear, jeans, and unkempt clothing, among other options. Please exercise good judgment."
For business formal workplaces, you could use the following: "Traditional business attire, including dresses, suits, and pantsuits, is required for external meetings with clients or prospects. Employees should use discretion on other occasions and are expected to demonstrate good judgment."
And for casual workplaces, which are on the rise—according to Indeed, 50% of companies allow employees to dress casually every day, as of 2019—go with something simple, like this, adapted from The Balance: "Dress comfortably for work, but please do not wear anything that could offend your coworkers or make them feel uncomfortable. That includes clothing with profanity, hate speech, or exclusionary language. Your clothing, while casual, should show common sense and professionalism."
No matter the level of formality your dress code needs to define, make sure you're thinking from the perspective of all employees—current as well as future—and creating an environment where they can thrive.
Want to share these tips with your company? Show them this handy one-page guide on creating a gender neutral dress code!
Kiana Labuhn, Recruiter at S&P Global, shares an exclusive take on the most important tips to keep in mind when preparing for an interview.
How Bumble’s Director of Engineering Learned to Be Herself at Work—and Encourages Team Members to Do the Same
Rose Hitchcock found out she was pregnant with her third child halfway through the process of interviewing to be Director of Engineering at Bumble.
She told the team at the social media and dating app and that didn't change their plans to hire her. "They were completely fine with it, really supportive," says Rose.
You've met some of them—maybe they're your family, friends, classmates, or coworkers, or perhaps you identify as neurodivergent yourself.
Sharing inclusivity, not stereotypes, at Raytheon Technologies<p><br></p><p>"Raytheon Technologies and our Raytheon Alliance for Diverse Abilities (RADA) Employee Resource Group (ERG) is committed to trying to bring focus on invisible disabilities, as they are among the most misunderstood. Autism/neurodiversity isn't a mental illness and we recognize how important it is to bring awareness, be inclusive of everyone and avoid stereotypes. During Autism Awareness Month RADA is featuring a multi-regional presentation about Autism Awareness & Acceptance, as well as neurodiversity overall. The presentation is focused on educational information, including what Autistic people want in terms of inclusion and meaningful work, as well as dispelling common misconceptions."</p><p><em>Learn more about </em><a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/raytheon-technologies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Raytheon Technologies</em></a>.</p>
Hiring a world-class workforce at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency<p>"The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency recently launched the Neurodiverse Federal Workforce (NFW) pilot program, a collaborative effort between NGA, MITRE, and Melwood. The NFW pilot aims to help government agencies hire neurodiverse talent for U.S. Federal Government agencies. 'NGA mission success is contingent on a world-class workforce with a wide diversity of opinions and expertise,' said NGA Deputy Director Dr. Stacey Dixon. 'Neurodiverse talent can bring new perspectives to the NGA workforce and make important contributions to the mission.' The pilot is a great learning opportunity for NGA to continue to grow and improve our first-class workforce."</p><p>Learn more from the podcast "<a href="https://www.podcastone.com/episode/The-National-Geospatial-Intelligence-Agency-takes-workforce-diversity-in-a-new-direction" target="_blank">The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency Takes Workforce Diversity In A New Direction</a>"</p><p><em>Learn more about the </em><a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/national-geospatial-intelligence-agency" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency</em></a><em>.</em></p>
Supporting each individual's preferred environment at Elastic<p>"We distribute anonymous surveys that allow anyone, including neurodiverse folks, to address potential barriers that we should address.</p><p>Our accessibility working group acts as an employee resource as well as an equity-seeking team that works to create and develop a disability inclusive workplace at Elastic.</p><p>The majority of our Elasticians work from home. Our hope is that this empowers neurodiverse employees, including those who may be on the spectrum, to have more control over their environment so that they can manage noise and light sensitivity, control their personal space, and manage their own schedule to reduce anxiety."</p><p><em>Learn more about </em><a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/elastic" target="_blank"><em>Elastic</em></a><em>.</em></p>
Pioneering neurodiversity at Freddie Mac<p>"Freddie Mac values the insights and different perspectives that result from employees bringing their authentic selves to work. Our Office of Inclusive Engagement works with several organizations to identify qualified candidates, consider them for suitable roles and pair them with mentors who can help them adapt to an evolving new normal. In 2020, we evolved our neurodiversity internship initiative into a more robust training, education and hiring process called 'Neurodiversity at Work' to directly place candidates with Autism Spectrum Disorders into full-time roles."</p><p><em>Learn more about </em><a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/freddie-mac" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Freddie Mac</em></a><em>.</em></p>
Decoding inclusion at MongoDB<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTk0NzE2OC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMDY3MTY2MH0.Q-ko6g65MC-epHBrx_vr6k9v-lSawHH5jfhPWOVTozI/img.png?width=980" id="a4487" width="1112" height="626" data-rm-shortcode-id="a686a88d639ff3a91a5a4f6b455ce0cc" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>"MongoDB supports the neurodivergent community through interview accommodations, providing new hires the opportunity to select equipment and denote special requests, and onboarding checklists broken down into useful sections. To raise awareness about neurodiversity in the workplace, we have a learning and development (L&D) platform which has content on collaborating with different working styles. Our L&D Program focuses on building skills in managing teams inclusively. We also host Decoding Inclusion, a series of events aimed at building community and sharing foundational knowledge about D&I topics, including neurodiversity, to further our understanding of differences."</p><p><a href="https://www.mongodb.com/blog/post/why-now-cool-time-different-steph-johnson" target="_blank">Read more about how MongoDB celebrates difference in this interview with their VP of Corporate Comms</a></p><p><em>Learn more about </em><a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/mongodb" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>MongoDB</em></a><em>.</em></p>
Encouraging allyship at Folsom Labs<p>"At Folsom Labs, we are passionate about building a culture of acceptance and inclusion. Our goal is not just to spread autism awareness but to strive to be allies and elevate the voices of those with disabilities. Now more than ever, this is important as many are facing the added weight of mental health and wellness challenges due to the pandemic. Encouraging allyship throughout the community and building a culture where everyone can thrive are at the forefront of our current initiatives. We are proud to celebrate Autism Acceptance Month — to set a stage where we can celebrate our differences and continue to create a space of inclusion and support."</p><p><em>Learn more about </em><a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/folsom-labs" target="_blank"><em>Folsom Labs</em></a><em>.</em></p><em><br></em>
Recruiting for diverse problem solvers at Dell Technologies<video controls id="7ebf6" width="100%" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d5c114fad218a953432630dfe99716b2" expand="1" feedbacks="true" mime_type="video/mp4" shortcode_id="1617842842194" site_id="17377755" url="https://roar-assets-auto.rbl.ms/runner%2F23124-Neurodiversity_Shortform_0325.mp4" videoControls="true"> <source src="https://roar-assets-auto.rbl.ms/runner%2F23124-Neurodiversity_Shortform_0325.mp4" type="video/mp4"> Your browser does not support the video tag. </video><p>"Dell's Neurodiversity Hiring Program provides professional development training, internships, and full-time career opportunities for neurodivergent job seekers. The program rethinks the traditional interview process by removing barriers that may limit an individual from fully showcasing their skills and capabilities. Additionally, program participants benefit from job coaching and mentorship provided by our community partners and True Ability ERG members.</p><p>A variety of critical positions across the company have been filled through the program. In doing so, we are bringing in diverse perspectives for problem solving that have helped us differentiate ourselves within the marketplace all while cultivating a culture of inclusion."</p><p><br></p><p><em>Learn more about </em><a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/dell-technologies" target="_blank"><em>Dell</em></a><em>.</em></p>
Supporting professionals with autism throughout their talent journey at Deloitte<p>"At Deloitte, everyone contributes to our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Our inclusive culture, empowers all of us, including those with diverse abilities, to connect, belong, and grow. Deloitte's Autism@Work program supports our professionals with autism throughout their talent journey. A customized, autism-friendly assessment process helps draw out our candidates' strengths. Our employees have an internal Coach, an Onboarding Advisor, and access to external job coaching. Our Onboarding Mentor/Buddy Program pairs professionals with autism with other Deloitte colleagues/allies. Through Neurodiversity Training, our professionals can help support and manage our differently-abled professionals. We also have our Abilities First Business Resource Group for people with disabilities plus allies."</p><p><em>Learn more about </em><a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/deloitte1" target="_blank"><em>Deloitte</em></a><em>.</em></p>
Sharing stories to support awareness at Lockheed Martin<p>"Lockheed Martin shares employee stories internally to help others understand Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and hosts internal events to support ASD awareness and education. The Able & Allies business resource group, whose mission is to build an environment that empowers employees with disabilities, has recently partnered with ASD advocacy organizations to offer resources to assist with managing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic with persons who have ASD and their families. Missiles and Fire Control (MFC) is a member of the Florida Ability Inclusion Network and strives to educate employees and leaders on disabilities and recommend best practices to promote a disability-friendly workplace."</p><p><em>Learn more about </em><a href="https://powertofly.com/companies/lockheed-martin" target="_blank"><em>Lockheed Martin</em></a><em>.</em></p>
Kate Jhaveri does one thing every day that she suggests you try: belly laughs.
The EVP and Chief Marketing Officer at the NBA credits her two kids with much of that levity—"They're very silly and they, at least once a day, make me laugh out loud," she says—though she seeks to make those lighter connections with her team at work, too.