Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Dressing down dress codes

What century is this again?
A 35-year-old hiring exec admitted to looking askance at female interviewees who show up in - gasp - pants. His reasoning: women in skirts and pantyhose make better employees than those in pants.

"Certainly, no man is going to get offended if she shows up in a skirt and hose, but there are men who, like me, feel a pantsuit on a woman is a step down," he told the paper. "Why take that chance?"

This hiring manager, who wisely didn't give his name, is a throwback, a relic from the dress-for-success 1980s.


"I remember once being on a search committee with several men, and the group told me that the woman with pants should be disqualified," recalled Juliet Sallette, marketing director for LaBovick & LaBovick law firm, in an e-mail. "I couldn't get over it. They felt that the fact that she wore pants stated that her personality was too dominant. The person that was hired wore a skirt."


"Whether women wear pants or skirts in a professional setting has nothing to do with their ability and experience and, more importantly, getting the job done," pointed out Vicki Donlan, author of "HER TURN: Why It's Time for Women to Lead in America."
Doesn’t that truism apply to men as well? And if what people wear has nothing to do with their ability to do their jobs, why are so many employers still hung up on the outmoded notion of dress codes?

If a job requires an employee to have contact with the public or clients, requiring that person to present a neat, professional appearance is understandable. But if a position doesn’t necessarily require contact with anyone but co-workers, and if what employees wear has nothing to do with their ability to do their jobs, why bother with a dress code for those employees?

Khakis don’t make people smarter, and blue jeans don’t make them dumber.

I’m not suggesting that employers should ignore patently inappropriate attire like hot pants, tube tops or T-shirts bearing profane or offensive slogans. But if an employer is hiring adults, this usually won’t be a problem anyway. I’m saying that, absent some compelling reason for them, forget dress codes. The antiquated approach of “Dress like a professional, act like a professional” applies only if you’re hiring people who need to be fooled into acting like professionals. If you’re hiring professionals, you’ll get professionals. And if you treat them like the adults they are and allow them to make their own decisions regarding their wardrobe, you just might get happier employees. And as I understand it, that’s good for small details like productivity, employee retention and the bottom line.

Morale doesn’t have to cost anything. So I wonder why so many employers ignore it until it becomes a problem.

This story was written by a Philly DN columnist who corresponded with sources by e-mail. An interesting detail to include in the column would’ve been what she was wearing as she worked on the column and whether she thought it affected the column. I’ve toiled in newsrooms in the past, where nobody gave a shit about anything but the finished product, so there’s a good chance she was wearing — or was surrounded by people wearing — denim and cross-trainers, nobody any less competent for it.



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