There are certain elements that have become common features of the employment landscape. One of the most prevalent of these is the business dress code. In some cases, a uniform is used to provide a sense of belonging and unity. Having standards in place can also help to set expectations for workers and present a professional image.
Nevertheless, it’s important to recognize how dress codes can be restrictive. Diversity is an increasingly important focus in workplaces. While the standard office uniform may be suitable for one segment of your workforce, it may actively exclude others. Inclusion isn’t just about bringing a wider range of contributors to your business, it’s also about creating an environment in which everyone feels welcomed and supported. This includes dress code considerations.
Let’s take a moment to examine how you can create a more inclusive dress code for your office.
Understand the Impact
Before putting together your dress code, it’s important to gain a better understanding of what the potential impact is for your organization. This can help to better inform your choices and give you clearer motivations for raising your cultural standards.
One aspect to understand is how vital it is not to minimize the connection between dress and identity. There are clothes and jewelry associated with religious affiliation and social segments. Hairstyles are also often overlooked as a strong connection to geographical, spiritual, and cultural heritage. To deny the presence of these at work is to effectively delegitimize people’s backgrounds. In many ways, it is a powerfully destructive form of microaggression that feeds into the negative and alienating experiences of already-marginalized groups.
However, alongside these emotional aspects, it’s also wise to recognize the impact inclusive dress codes have on your business. The presence of cultural diversity in the workplace provides exposure to different perspectives. The benefits of this are best illustrated by looking at how the cultural melting pot of people living in state capitals influences positive social change. Regular and authentic contact with people of different backgrounds can help make community members more culturally conscious. They develop greater empathy and a desire to collaborate on innovative outcomes.
Seek Employee Insights
There is a tendency for dress codes to be largely dictatorial. They’re edicts issued by company leaders or human resources (HR) with an expectation for staff to just follow suit. The problem here is that the standards are developed from a single perspective. Even if you feel you’ve considered wider cultural elements, your rules are still created through the lens of your limited experience. As such, it’s important to involve employees in a meaningful way.
Start by talking honestly to your workforce about dress codes. Help them to understand why you feel it is necessary and how their input can be important. Discuss what you’re trying to achieve with more inclusive standards. Communicating openly helps everyone to understand the imperatives and challenges involved. Not to mention that transparency is a powerful form of employee respect.
It can then be wise to form a dress code review committee of employees from all levels of the company and diverse backgrounds. Give them responsibility for establishing regularly reviewing and updating dress codes. Democratize the process by providing all staff with channels to provide feedback on current dress policies for review.
This approach isn’t just about making more appropriate dress code decisions. It demonstrates your company has a commitment to inclusivity and you take your workers’ feelings seriously. As such, it is a powerful tool to boost engagement among your workforce. This can result in greater retention and productivity.
Set Dress Guidelines
Employees know that a certain amount of uniformity may be necessary for specific circumstances. But they also know there’s no justification for demanding formal dress in every office situation. As such, overbearing dress rules can feel arbitrary and unnecessarily controlling.
This can be particularly problematic where workers live with mobility or neurological challenges. People with neurodivergent traits can often find uncomfortable clothing disruptive to their well-being. As such, strict formal dress codes are not just contrary to inclusive standards but actively burdensome. It can be better to set structured dress guidelines rather than rules.
In most offices, employees won’t have regular in-person contact with customers or clients. It can be wise to leave dress choices open to workers. This gives employees chances to express themselves and perform at their best with the identity and cultural accouterments they prefer.
Beyond this, your guidelines can give recommendations for different circumstances. For instance, client meetings might call for business casual. Particularly for women, business casual standards can vary significantly depending on location and culture. The interpretation here can be anything from the standard blazers and chinos to floral dresses and jeans. Try not to be prescriptive in the definition of business casual. A more inclusive code gives guidance on the impression the clothing and appearance should be intended to make in each circumstance.
Above all else, this dress structure should treat your employees like adults. Trust their judgment in the first instance. If they miss the mark, this can lead to valuable discussions that make standards and intentions clearer for everyone.
Your dress code is not just a tool for professional uniformity. When you take the time to make your standards more inclusive, it can be a powerful influencer of cross-cultural collaboration. Gain insights into how your code choices impact both individuals and your organization. Involve your staff in creating the standards that will ultimately affect them more than anyone else. Opt for structured guidelines rather than arbitrary rules. This is an ongoing learning process for many companies, but your commitment here sends a positive message.