Sunday, May 13, 2012

Etiquette and Style Classes for Raunchy Work Dress Code - Oh Puh-Lease!!


I read an article by Sarah Whyte in The Age today regarding dress code for working women and how some of the high profile accounting and legal firms are running courses on dress style and etiquette for some of their (mostly young) staff. It would appear the employers are quite dismayed at some of the daily fashion choices being worn to work.

As a consultant who has worked in Equal Opportunity for 16 years, I was bemused to learn concerns have been raised about potential "unlawful discrimination" in asking women to dress more corporately at work. The issue to me is not the “casualisation” of the workforce but the lack of modesty and professionalism reflected in dress style for some women of any age. I don’t care if the culprits are Gen X, Y or octogenarians. The professional firm feeling compelled to spend money on style classes is pandering to employees in the same way as those parents so desperate to be their kids’ friends, never say “No” for fear of incurring any disapproval. By this rationale, the antidote to sashaying hips in fishnets and stilettos at work would be deportment classes.

We can all dress individually. I know I do. And we don’t have to be on big salaries to do it either. One or two suits if necessary with several alternating blouses that don't expose d├ęcolletage are fine. But whether or not we have a body good enough to flaunt should not be an excuse to do so within the confines of a professional services firm. If women or men dress inappropriately, leading to other women or men being embarrassed by their ‘sexual’ attire, that is sexual harassment. What the firms should be providing is EEO briefings, not style and etiquette classes. And ironically, the sex discrimination act administers sexual harassment law so any worry about possible "discrimination" by enforcing a professional dress code should give way to real concern that those sexually harassing peers, bosses and clients by the way they dress at work are definitely in breach of sex discrimination law.

Some women still have to fight hard to be taken seriously every day. And they have always deserved to be. Let’s not give men a pretext not to. And any employer has the right to ask their people to dress in keeping with a professional workplace. My rule of thumb? Anything that would ever be worn to a night club is definitely out of bounds. Oh, except a watch!!