As the #dresscode has been a prominent topic across the media this week, I thought it’s about time that I put my two-pence worth of comments in the hat too:
To set the scene, I am a female only business owner, I run an amazing talented team at our award-winning marketing agency Brighter Directions. We’ve been established for over ten years and provide remote marketing expertise to companies globally from innovative start-ups, to growing SME’s and global brands.
My team is very female dominated, we support over 20 employees; the vast majority (84%) are women. Only four men form part of our impeccable little family and those are highly focused within the creative teams (website development), and one in our PR division.
Our recruitment strategy was never geared towards a women-led workforce, it was focused around personality, characteristics and skills, and we have the right people for the right roles.
So after this week’s extensive coverage of the #dresscode drama unfolding across the national media, (BBC article here for an example) I for one was baffled at the amount of unnecessary opinions around this topic, which to me is quite frankly ridiculous. Companies regardless of size have the right to request a formal dress code (and I see footwear as part of that), to protect the brands credibility and reputation. I for one do not see this as a sexist request by the company or something that needs to be changed in the future.
Where it all started:
Recent stories covering this have stated that the government must enforce the law to ban sexist dress rules at work that discriminate against women, MPs say. After conducting a report following the experience of London receptionist Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from work in December 2015 for not wearing high heels.
Her parliamentary petition on the issue gained more than 150,000 supporting signatures.
During the investigation, MPs also heard from women asked to wear shorter skirts and unbutton blouses, and of dress codes detailing nail varnish shade and hair root colour.
The joint report, High Heels and Workplace Dress Codes, comes from parliamentary committees for Petitions and for Women and Equalities. It said the Equality Act 2010 should ban discriminatory dress rules at work, but in practice the law is not applied properly to protect workers of either gender.
Where we stand:
At Brighter Directions, we operate as a close-knit family, we have incredibly close and respectful relationships throughout our business and our company culture very much reflects this ethos and always has done.
Our internal dress code is informal and comfortable, in the office staff are free to wear what they like, this can be anything from jeans to shorts to, on occasion pyjamas and I for one have no problem with this. It has NEVER affected productivity or efficiency in the workplace and in contrast, I believe it actually aids in motivation and mirrors our company culture.
However, externally and at events, it’s a whole different ball game!
Our corporate reputation, credibility and image is incredibly important to us, as a high-valued company focused on providing the right ‘image’ for our clients, it’s vital for us to also display this professionalism within our own marketing efforts
Externally such as meetings, corporate events or exhibitions we have a formal and strict dress-code, which includes black dresses (and heels) for the ladies, and a black suit for the men, along with our renowned ‘orange’ accessories such as dressed flowers or ties.
This ‘dress-code’ is something that I have requested of my team since the very beginning, and that I also adhere to as part of the company brand.
On not one occasion have I ever been confronted (nor do I expect to be) for requesting that my staff adhere to these requirements in place. In fact all of my staff love the chance to ‘dress-up’ and attend the external events because of our ‘uniform’ and the opportunities it brings with having a uniformed and professional presence at these events. We have always been noted for our uniform and it’s something of a talking point, offering recognition to those who have seen us previously, in short, it’s a very good marketing tool.
If I was ever challenged on the topic, what would I do?
The honest answer is I don’t know. Our brand is vitally important to us as an organisation and our external uniform is very much part of what makes us stand out from the crowd.
If it was a matter of a viable reason why someone couldn’t wear heels (due to medical reasons, for example), or a dress because of self-confidence then there are still alternatives to fit within the dress code generally such as flats or trousers, and I personally wouldn’t have a problem with that.
The most important thing is for companies and its employees to have a valued, respectable, happy, inspired and approachable workplace – and, that means both sides singing to the same musical tune.
Don’t get me wrong, as a person and business owner I am incredibly passionate about diversity and ethics in the workplace, having personally worked in male-dominated environments all my working life, I understand the challenges that some women have to overcome. But, at the same time I also think that sometimes things are blown up like a storm in a teacup, especially at political level – when in reality they really don’t need to be. And this initiative, in my opinion is such a case.
The fact is that dress codes (with exception of some of the extreme cases that the media has demonstrated over this topic), are part of a company culture, and not only that but give employees and companies a aligned ethos and message. And that should be acceptable for all companies to request, as part of their outbound marketing activities!
Claire Curzon. Managing Director – Brighter Directions