Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Can I mandate that women employees wear pantyhose?

Dear Diversity Diva: Maybe I’m just an old-fashioned male, even though I’m not old, but I really have a problem with the increasing trend of women not wearing pantyhose with skirts and dresses when they come to work. Would it be sexist of me to mandate that my female subordinates wear pantyhose to work? — Pantyhose in a Twist

Dear Pantyhose: I’m sure that just about every woman reading this column is hoping that I say a resounding “yes” to your question and tell you that you’re sexist. And while you may be a sexist, I’m going to stick to the issue.
The issue is whether a male believes that he has the right to require a woman to encase parts of her body in an uncomfortable material that restricts movement and comfort. Granted, wearing pantyhose can be an effective prophylactic against looking too casual and not sufficiently professional.
But for the average woman who has to wear nylons eight to 10 hours a day, every day, even when the humidity is nearing triple digits, it can seem like an antiquated and rigid expectation that serves no real purpose other than when specific circumstances require that degree of custom.
Deep down, as a boss, you know whether this requirement you have for your female employees is fair or not. For example, if the women are dealing with the public in a formal work environment, then it might be a legitimate expectation to spell out in your company handbook what expectations of attire are.
But if women throughout the organization in other similar departments are walking their bare legs up and down the hallway, maybe you’re the one who has expectations out of sync with your work environment and with changing times.
Also, going back to the sexist question, maybe you do need to ask yourself if you’re being evenhanded in how you expect your male employees to dress compared to the women. I mean if the women have to wear nylons while men frequently come to work without ties or in khakis and polo-type shirts, maybe you do have some double standards that need re-examining.
When it’s all said and done, if you’re a buttoned-up, consistently dapper guy yourself, it could just be that you’re trying to reinstitute decorum and modesty in the workplace, which some would consider admirable.
I still say that you should consider how it would feel to spend just one full workday zipped up in plastic before seriously considering implementing a mandatory pantyhose workplace.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Will my hair be held against me in a job interview?

Dear Diversity Diva: Because I’m a white guy, you may not find this a diversity issue, but it’s an issue to me. Two days after I put blond highlight tips in my hair, I got a call for a job interview. I’m in a fairly conservative industry and am wondering if that will be something held against me? — Highlights Holding Me Down
Dear Highlights: First, let me get out of the way that diversity is not just about minority groups and women. Workplace diversity is about bringing differences to the table and maximizing everyone’s talents.
Diversity, at its best, is about people in the work force getting past appearances to knowing what you can do in the job you’re hired for.
Now you’re probably right that blond, spiky hair will probably not make it to the U.S. Supreme Court as a discrimination issue, but that doesn’t make your issue any less important to you because it’s not a legally protected one.
A few months ago I wrote about the issue of tattoos on job interviews, but this is different, in that, generally speaking, tattoos are permanent and not something you can change the week before a job interview — if you wanted to.
In essence, what you’re worried about is whether an unflattering, mistaken conclusion will be drawn about you based on your appearance. Or it could be that you’re worried that a very accurate conclusion will be drawn about you based on your appearance, but a conclusion that won’t help you get the job.
In either case, the question to ask yourself is whether your hairstyle is a statement of some kind or whether it’s just a hairstyle. If it’s a statement about your individuality or reflects your identity in some key way (for example, you’re a Kansas City surfer boy), then the better question to ask yourself is whether the place where you are interviewing is a good fit for you anyway.
On the other hand, if it’s just a hairstyle, then change it. It’s not an immutable characteristic or a reflection of cultural, religious or sexual orientation, so it’s not like you would be compromising yourself in any fundamental way to have your stylist slap on some hair rinse.
Diversity often is about the large and deep issues that have historical context and emotional relevance, but sometimes it can just be about the misconceptions about people created from small details.
In the case of hair color, this is a detail you can easily control.
Good luck on your interview!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Is Every Personnel Issue a Big Deal?

Dear Diversity Diva: No offense, Diva, but I think you dropped the ball on your last column. It sounded like you were saying that the manager should just blow off two employees getting into it about gay marriage. Shouldn’t someone have gotten in trouble? — Critical in Kansas City
Dear Critical: I can understand how my response may have seemed that I was taking too soft a tone to the manager’s dilemma. However, that wasn’t the case. The manager asked about what he should do regarding two employees in his small retail store who had a spat when one of them mentioned that he/she was about to get married under California’s new gay marriage law. The other employee responded in an offensive way.
Basically, my answer was in response to the very specific question the manager asked (who gave me more details than space allowed), which was wanting to know what role he had in improving the relationship that went awry between two employees.
The manager was asking about an isolated incident in which two people were on opposite sides of an emotionally charged issue. And whether people like it or not, an isolated difference of opinion between two employees does not trigger the need for a companywide diversity training session or the firing of an employee.
If one of the employees had written and told me how this was an ongoing issue of hostility and harassment, then reporting the incident to management would have been the first step I recommended, followed by possibly hiring an attorney to seek legal remedies based on the facts.
If the manager himself had told me that this was an ongoing issue, then I would have recommended that he quickly take this to his human resources department and address this immediately.
That wasn’t the case here. The manager who contacted me had the specific concern of wanting his people to go back to liking each other again in the aftermath of one conversation. The law can address behaviors; it can even address motivations that result in work environment and job decisions. But the law and human resources department can’t legislate how people feel about other individuals or other groups.
Laws and policies help keep the workplace fair, but they can’t eradicate bigotry, because one person’s bigoted comment is another person’s right to have an opinion.
Just like the first fight with a spouse doesn’t require a trip to a marriage counselor, every isolated disagreement regarding diversity in the workplace does not require a trip to the human resources department or to the EEOC.
Additionally, 100 different HR professional will have 100 different takes on how to handle a personnel issue. But all those approaches are imperfect considering that the EEOC last year had its biggest increase in discrimination complaints from the preceding year since 1993.
Thanks for holding my feet to the fire, Critical!