I make no secret of my general disregard for fashion; at work I’ll be in a trouser suit on all but the hottest of days and like to stick to a limited pallet of trusted colours. But I enjoy seeing other people express themselves through their clothes – be it a natty three-piece suit with visible socks and pocket handkerchief, a flowery dress that billows around the office, or an all-black ensemble complimented by gold cowboy boots.
Behind the closed doors of the office I work in, rarely will jeans raise eyebrows (unless they have more rips and holes than denim, in which case expect some degree of good-humoured mocking from friends). But my guidance for those I work with, or new graduates embarking on their careers in professional services, is to dress at least as conservatively as your clients, who pay your bills. If this is an investment bank, formal business wear is a must, but show up to a tech company in the same outfit and you’ll risk alienating them.
As we’re in Pride month, with Pride in London happening on Saturday 8 July, I was pushed to think further about dress code. How would I feel if a consultant on my team showed up for a client meeting in a skirt, or wearing nail polish, and introduced themselves as ‘Jenny’ when the previous day they had been ‘Fred’ and had expressed themselves as their biological, male, gender?
My only concerns would be, is the skirt of an appropriate length for a client meeting? Are their tights free from ladders? Is the nail polish without chips? These are the types of thing that make an outfit acceptable. The gender of the individual, and how they choose to express that gender through their clothing, should not be relevant in a modern workplace.
While for me, clothes are just clothes, I understand that for others they are an important way to express who they are. Restricting this too far can make people feel like they aren’t being included and they may be more easily tempted away to other employers – something I want to avoid!
In any workplace, feeling welcome and included directly impacts an individual’s performance, so we have to look at all the ways that make people feel valued. How this applies to being gender fluid, genderqueer, or trans is exactly the same as how it applies to women and BAME – it is a fundamental part of someone’s identity and should be respectfully acknowledged as such.
It’s likely that rates of trans and non-gender binary people are under reported around the world as they are unwilling to disclose this part of their identity for fear of discrimination. Each of us, at home and at work, can and must play a role not only in enabling them to feel accepted, but also celebrated.
Wishing everyone bright end to Pride month celebrating the news that Germany has taken the first steps to legalise gay marriage, and a colourful Pride parade.
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