As more employees return to the office following the coronavirus pandemic, a one-size-fits-all approach to dress codes no longer works, says Farzeen Mawji, national practice leader in inclusion and diversity at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.
“[Employees] are certainly adapting to more business casual rather than formal business attire. I often tell people to think about why they want to have a dress code in the first place — is there a certain aesthetic [they] want in the office environment, which isn’t necessarily needed when people are working at home? Once you get to the value of what it is you’re trying to do, then you can start to be more clear about what it is you’re asking for.”
When considering dress codes, it’s important for employers to leave stereotypes behind, he says, adding tattoos, piercings and even coloured hair used to be seen as inappropriate in a professional environment. “This seems to be dissipating now — and for good reason — because people are recognizing it’s authentic self expression. We keep saying, ‘Bring your whole self to work’— that might be a part of their whole self.”
From a diversity, equity and inclusion perspective, this is where unique lived experiences and expression come into play, especially when considering gender inclusivity. “There are employees who are gender non-binary [rejecting the idea of gendered dress codes],” says Mawji. “And you’ve got people who fit into all ranges of gender identities who are saying they don’t want to have a prescriptive way in which they’re told to dress. [They might] prefer a value-based system that says, ‘I’d like you to dress clean and neat and tidy’ and then leave the rest to them.”
He says it’s also important for employers to not just just replicate what was done pre-pandemic, but to consider what was working well and what may need to be changed. “[Employers need to] be open to evolving because I think clients are also facing the same evolution. You may think you need to dress formally because that’s how your client base was dressing, but they too have evolved. So it’s really about coming up to speed and being more current.”