Beyond The Binary: Gender Neutral Dress Codes

7572ca8bfe83d72d3be1c0de609653ae-originaFeeling Confined by Professional Attire?

By Manvi Pant. Last year, Jaden Smith, son of actor Will Smith, was revealed as the face of Louis Vuitton's Spring/Summer 2016 womenswear collections. Yes, you read that right: a womenswear collection! In an Instagram photo with upwards of 45,000 likes, he wore a dress and caption the photo: “Went To TopShop To Buy Some Girl Clothes, I Mean “Clothes.”

Gender neutral attire is a reflection of acceptance, inclusion, and a fearless approach towards oneself. Dressing this way means creating a comfortable space where you have the freedom to go beyond “his” and “hers” and exhibit your emotions, ambitions, and a lot more. It means breaking the gender-binary and feeling more whole, at home and at work.

In fact, Catalyst research shows that when employees feel psychologically safe, they are much more likely to report higher innovation and being better members of teams. For some—and particularly men, who face very rigid norms for dress in the workplace—this may mean dressing outside of what has traditionally been considered professional for an individual’s gender. And with more and more organizations prioritizing diversity, polices protecting this kind of attire should be implemented.

Code Shift
Imagine a workplace that is more about stringent dress codes and less about competence. Are you picturing resigned expressions, rising stress levels, and a high attrition rate?

If this image hits close to home, you’ll need to question your current thinking on what is and what is not acceptable if you’re going to make change for the better. For starters, consider this: why is clothing that is acceptable for one gender not acceptable for another?

This conundrum was cleverly posed in a report created by nonprofit The 519, Creating Authentic Spaces: “Trans-employees’ clothing choices are often scrutinized by managers or coworkers. Managers should consider whether their concerns are based on discomfort around the wardrobe choices of a trans-employee in particular when other cis [short for cisgender; denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex] co-workers would wear comparable clothing.”

Does that mean we should abolish dress codes altogether? No! Again, the problem lies with the division of the traditional gender binary—on the men’s side, this results in men’s inability to deviate from colors like navy, grey, and black suits in professional settings. Anything else may be considered too feminine.

Cracking the Code
In general, an organization’s dress code does serve a purpose. It forms an aspect of company culture, but company culture does not revolve around it. Too much discipline can stifle creativity.

To keep your dress code up-to-date, regular reviews are important—organizations must evolve according to the needs of their employees. Keep tabs on what’s trending and assess whether it’s time for a change. As more millennials enter your workforce, chances are you will see a demand for a more generous and non-traditional policy. Hence, maintaining a healthy balance and defining clear, respectful boundaries of professionalism in dress will help. Employees should know where they need to draw the line.

The times are changing and so should the conventional thinking. It’s time we redress the dress codes and end useless gender categorization.

d8a11676c36532306c60e9bc9abf8387-huge-10Manvi Pant is a CRM professional at A.T. Kearney, a guest contributor at ‘Women to Watch,’ an avid writer, a voracious reader, high on creativity and involves herself in pursuits like photography and DIY decorations. Most of her pictures throw light on abstract subjects, people and nature. She appreciates art and follows Frida Kahlo’s paintings and writings a lot.

Posted by MARC Catalyst on Sep 6, 2017 8:58 AM America/New_York

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