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Does a dress code improve career success?

Published: Friday 8th February 2019

The Equality Act of 2010 was created to protect people from being discriminated against. In regards to sex, age, and disability both in the workplace and when it comes to recruitment. However, it doesn’t protect candidates or workers from bias when it comes to physical appearance, hairstyle, or dress code. It’s true that in certain roles, such as retail jobs or other customer-facing jobs, companies need to look after their company reputation by applying a dress code. This way workers look professional. But how far can they go when it comes to how a person looks or dresses?

Female office worker

Is a smart dress code good for business?

Take US actress turned business woman, Lindsay Lohan, for example. She recently appeared on television in a reality show hiring ambassadors for her brand. All recruits, according to a review of the show were ‘attractive twenty-somethings’. Obviously, not a good example of the diversity recruiters should be trying to implement. As she was recruiting for her club in Greece, the Equality Act didn’t apply in this instance.

Employers can (and do) have strict policies on dress codes. Particularly in anything customer facing or industries such as law, accountancy or banking. After all, they have a professional image to portray – one that’s good for the company reputation. But when it comes to what is acceptable in terms of dress code policies, employers do have to tread carefully. In the case of Lindsay Lohan, the business woman was criticised for threatening to sack two members of staff for not wearing the same shoes.

Solicitor shaking hands of a client

Blondes have more fun – and a higher salary

Looks shouldn’t matter when it comes to how well equipped someone is for a particular job. Especially in roles that don’t require customer interaction, such as an office assistant. But in reality, looks can influence recruiters, especially if it comes down to a tight decision. More often than not, the candidates that matches the companies dress code in the interview, will impress the most. That bias can be conscious or subconscious.

And the bias doesn’t end at dress sense. Even height can make a difference. Several studies have shown that taller workers earn more. Intriguingly, a study by Queensland University found that blondes earned 7% more than women of any other hair colour. Likewise, the University of Messina found that the call-back rate after an interview was higher for more attractive men and women.

Blonde office worker

It should go without saying that choosing a candidate based on their looks isn’t a sound recruitment strategy. The 29th US President, Warren Harding, widely acknowledged as the worst in history, was chosen by republicans because he looked ‘presidential’.

Talent vs Looks: Which is more attractive?

Tattoos and body piercings can be more problematic and employers can ask for workers to cover up tattoos and remove piercings in the workplace, especially in customer-facing roles. However, this should be made explicit in the company dress code policy and distributed to all staff.

However, even then, some companies’ dress code policies have been deemed to contravene the Equality Act, leading to some UK politicians to call for employers with sexist dress codes to be fined. Employment law solicitors have said that requiring women to wear high heels, for example, constitutes direct sex discrimination.

Despite this, if an employer’s dress code is deemed as reasonable, and a worker does not comply, they can be dismissed, having been given sufficient warning.

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