Has working from home killed the office dress code for good?

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Many companies started sending out newsletters in the fall. “return to the office” emails. They probably offered a tentative roadmap for lunch protocols and mask-wearing. What they probably didn’t address is a question that’s top of mind for many people who’ve spent two years working from home in sweatpants: What on earth am I going to wear?

“It’s going to be quite a dilemma,”Soo Min Toh is an associate professor of organizational behavior and director of the Institute for Management & Innovation, University of Toronto Mississauga. Even though we’ve all gotten used to seeing colleagues in T-shirts instead of suits, it’s hardly a certainty that workplaces will – or even should – make the casualization of office wear permanent.

One thing is certain, however: What we wear at work is important, regardless of how we feel about it.

“Appearance is the first thing we notice about people,”Dr. Toh: “From there, we draw all sorts of cues, like whether they are competent or conscientious.”

That’s a concept we may not be comfortable with – after all, competency has nothing to do with whether your waist is elasticated or not – but the fact remains that you are being judged for what you wear, and you’re probably judging others too.

A new set of expectations

Dr. Toh explains the psychological concept of “prototypes,”This means that we all have preconceived notions about what certain types of people should look and act like. It’s the idea that scientists wear lab coats, for example, and Zuckerberg-type “geniuses” wear hoodies.

“[The more] you fit a certain prototype, the more likely you are to be seen as someone of that group,”She elaborates. “This is where we get this idea of ‘executive presence,’ where you need to come across as an executive in the way you look and talk.”

Dr. Toh says that these symbolic codes can function as a tool. This allows someone who may not be able to fit the prototype to look the same.

“But it’s a tool within a system that has [particular] expectations,”She notes. In Silicon Valley, for example, women who wear hoodies similar to their male counterparts might be perceived as incompetent and not uber-talented.

This is why Dr. Toh is hopeful that the experience of the pandemic – which has demonstrated that productivity and wearing a blazer aren’t correlated – could create a new set of expectations and a larger rethinking of the work force.

“It’s an opportunity for [organizations] to show that they care about their people,”She said. A dressCode change could be a possibility “symbolic move to signal a change in the organization’s approach and values.”

Women spend more time, effort, and money than men. “office appropriate”This may seem like a welcome change. However, a company can decide to go back to a traditional dress code. dress code or embrace sweatpants, it’s important that they make this change official, say Sarah Saska, co-founder and CEO of Femininity, a DEI consulting agency that works with companies around all of the world.

“This overarching shift to the more casual dress code has translated for a lot of companies into just throwing their dress code out the window, and they’re not replacing it with anything else,” Dr. Saska says. “If companies don’t design these policies in a really deliberate and intentional way, often unofficial cultural rules emerge from [employees], and the chances of them [forming] along sexist, classist, ableist or racist lines are very likely.”

‘Another kind of prison’For marginalized persons

In the absence a set of guidelines, it is possible for marginalized people to be allowed to join the workforce. “over index,”Dr. Saska says that it is actually more formal than ever before.

“If you look at that ‘new casual’ aesthetic, especially for women, it follows very white, nondisabled forms of dress,”She points out the cashmere sweaters, and expensive leggings that are often part of this uniform. “If less formal dress codes are to become truly equitable, the association with casual dress and competency has to be part of the conversation, otherwise people are going to try to protect themselves by how they dress.”

She says companies could accidentally create another prison for their employees when they try to create freedom. “When companies say they want their employees to dress as their ‘most authentic self,’ that’s so wildly wrapped up in privilege.”

Dr. Saska recommends that an organization does it well if they want to succeed. “put it to their people,”Get their input on a post-pandemic new model. dress code.

“Treat it like a design challenge. Ask [questions such as]: How does sexism show up in the dress code? How does the exclusion of non-gender conforming and non-binary folk show up? How do ableist notions show up? It’s a matter of taking a decolonizing and inclusive lens, and collectively designing that policy.”

It’s a dressing code of conduct rather than a rule book, one that purposely solves for things like “stigmatization around hair”Or “sexualization,” Dr. Saska says. (You can’t allow yoga pants without addressing the ways women’s bodies can be perceived, for example.)

She adds that any new code should also acknowledge the ways that these two years have changed many of us, especially if someone’s old default work wardrobe no longer fits who they are now.

People could have gone through transitions or may have been “playing along the gender spectrum”Their work environment may have changed during their absence, which could make them look very different upon their return.

If workplaces don’t thoughtfully consider these sorts of issues, says Dr. Saska, the risk is that “some people might regress or ‘mask’ again, when they’ve been able to blossom while remote.”

Ask Women and Work

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Question: I’ve been crunching the numbers and I’m thinking about making my side hustle into my main livelihood. But I’m a single mom and I’m worried about taking the risk and quitting my job. I cannot continue to do my job if my side hustle is to grow. I have enough savings to cover my expenses for six month. To maximize my chances of success, what are the steps I should take?

We asked Neha Khera to be our general partner. 2048 Ventures, “thesis-driven earliest stage”Venture capital firm to field this one

It’s an exciting place to live! It sounds like your side hustle is really taking off. The beauty of starting your own business is the unlimited upside potential. The downside is that it’s a big risk. And I agree that if you want to do it well, you’ll have to jump in with both feet.

Here’s some practical advice to help you make the right decision.

  • Are you offering a product or service that fills a need on the market (customer Discovery)?
  • Is there enough market for your product/service in order to sustain your lifestyle (market share)?
  • Do you know how to increase revenue and customers (sales)?
  • Do you need capital to grow your business? Have you identified the best way to source it (financing).
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  • If you’ve got a good handle on the above, then it really boils down to your risk appetite. I recommend that you set tangible goals and evaluate them after three, six or nine months. For example, obtaining ‘x’In dollars in revenue, or acquiring ‘x’New customers must be attained by a specific date. These goals can be used to determine whether you should keep going or not.

    Entrepreneurship is both thrilling and terrifying in general. I applaud your efforts to reach this point. I believe that if you are able and willing to work for yourself, you should consider starting a business. You’ll never know unless you try. Good luck!

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