Will a casual dress code impact the war for talent?
The casual dress code, the war for talent and the balance between compliance and authenticity
PWC, the international accounting firm has relaxed it's dress code for staff in their Australian offices. Does this mean "dress to impress", "dress for success" and "dress for the job you want, not the one you have" are little idioms now turned on their heads, by a hitherto conservative company from down-under?
Sue Horlin, PWC Australia said: “The reality is we are in a war for talent and we want the same creative, innovative and diverse people that all the other companies are chasing. We think this change will help us do that.”
Previously men were requested to wear suits and business-appropriate socks, while women wore tailored dresses or trousers. Now employees, under the new casual dress code, can decide which attire is appropriate for the workplace. Apparently it's not a dress up or dress down policy, staff have to consider "what they are doing each day, who they are doing it with, and dress in a way that reflects that."
One company at least is striving to find that critical balance.
Casual dress code and creative juices
Will being released from tyranny of the tie and the tailored dress, result in the creative juices flowing? What happened to the power suit and statement jewellery? Will someone choose between two companies because one will release you from wearing a tailored dress or suit? Creative accountants conjure up notions of dodgy dealing, the likes of which are found in the Panama Papers. Will wearing casual gear inject some life into those Excel spread sheets and fire into the annual audits. Or is this another sop to a group that work long hours with high levels of burnout, to stop them feeling they are more than cogs in a great wheel? A bit like duvet days?
Samantha a Risk Analyst told me "Any career choice I made would be based on job content, career opportunities, general conditions and salary - not the clothes I am allowed to wear."
Meredith (33) a lawyer in a very conservative London City firm commented "People join established law firms and I suppose accounting firms, because they want to be in a top firm , with the best people, working with high level clients and the most interesting cases. Would I choose a firm with a casual dress code over one that didn't have one? I doubt it. We know the deal. We are not Google. I'm not sure if clients would feel the same if we were casually dressed. We are all driven by our own unconscious biases and clients expect lawyers to be professionally dressed.
Law and accounting are generally compliance based fields anyway. I could understand back-office support being allowed to be more casual, but that in itself is discriminatory. They would be immediately labelled as lower grades. I would feel pretty strange wearing weekend outfits to the office. It would be like going to the office without underwear - just nooooo!"
Double standards for men and women
As our businesses are male dominated I can't help but think this shift to a casual dress code is another sand trap being set up for women. An article in the Huffington Post rightly highlights the hypocrisy of the casual dress code in Tech. Nowhere is it more self - evident than the standards set by Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg. Do you really think that if Sandberg dressed like her boss she would be taken as seriously? So while Zuckerberg is rotating his grey hoodies and tees, Sandberg is pulling out the impossibly killer heels and chic frocks.
Even in dress down environments women and men don’t quite play by the same rules. A casual dress code can have a backlash against women who are judged more harshly than men on their appearance.
So the PWC ladies in Australia now have another conundrum. They have been given permission to be authentic. Is it another patch of quick sand they will sink right into, or is will it be the spring-board to bring their true selves to Board level?
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