Equity in Action: Amending Your Dress Code

Businesswoman standing holding digital tablet.

Do dress codes do more harm than good?

To begin our Equity in Action blog series, we’ll discuss step one from our Six Steps to Make Your Legal Workplace more Equitable – amending your dress code. Many dress codes aren’t inclusive of hairstyles, clothing, or makeup styles of different cultures or gender identities.

Let’s review two scenarios that you or your colleagues may find yourselves in:

Scenario 1:

Margaret has been an employee at ABC Law for a couple years and identifies as African Nova Scotian. On a typical day, Margaret’s hair is worn down and straightened. However, yesterday, she arrived to work au naturel. Margaret stated that she will be embracing her natural curly hair from now on. A few colleagues have come to you, Margaret’s manager, expressing concern about how this could affect the image of the firm.

What would you do if you found yourself in this situation?

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you unfairly regulating people based on the appearance of their hair?
  • Do you associate certain hairstyles or hair lengths, make-up, or skin exposure as being unprofessional?

Scenario 2:

Your firm is seeking to hire an associate. One of the job candidates shows up wearing an untailored suit that your colleague categorized as not being “nice enough” and “sloppy”. Instead of focusing on their responses during the interview, you catch yourself judging them negatively for their appearance. This job candidate does not end up being the successful candidate for the associate position at your firm and the main reasoning you and your colleagues have is that their suit was not nice enough. 

What would you do if you found yourself in this situation?

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Are candidates judged negatively for their appearance in ways that penalize them for having a lower income (e.g., not having a “nice enough” suit)?
  • Are candidates judged negatively for clothing from non-white cultures?

It’s important while amending your dress code to watch out for:

  • Prohibition of natural or traditional hairstyles from black communities
  • Lack of an explicit acceptance of clothing from non-white cultures
  • Differences in standards between genders for things such as makeup, hair length, or skin exposure

Our goal is that by the end of this blog series is for you, your colleagues and firm know how to approach various situations to make your legal workplace more equitable.

Questions or comments? Contact us at [email protected] or add your comment or response to “what would you do?” in these scenarios by below! Please feel free to remain anonymous and note that we review all comments.

This Equity in Action blog post was written by Asha Pelly, NSBS Summer Law Student.