Posted: August 04, 2009
T&A: The new standard for work attire? No thanks!
Remember the catchy, albeit raunchy, song about "T’s and A-s" from the musical “Chorus Line?” It seems to have helped set a new standard in unprofessional attire for some workers.Theresa M. Szczurek
Remember the catchy, albeit raunchy, song about "T’s and A-s" from the musical “Chorus Line?” It seems to have helped set a new standard in unprofessional attire for some workers.
Recently I was interviewing a college student for a possible internship with my consulting firm. She arrived in a revealing low-cut tank top with bra straps and much more hanging out, tight shorts and flip flops. This was shocking and distracting.
Needless to say, she did not get the position.
Unfortunately this situation is not uncommon. Last night I picked up will-call tickets for a concert. The young woman working in the ticket box office wore a strapless top without a bra, which she repeatedly had to pull up so it did not fall down. On stage, while the male orchestra performers wore relaxed summer attire without ties or jackets, they looked professional with long-sleeve white shirts that were buttoned up and tucked in their slacks.
A few of the female performers however did not uphold this standard — in fact, every time one female violinist leaned forward to turn the sheet-music page, her entire back-end hung out. Here was the 'plumber's butt' syndrome on stage — ugh!
It was clearly distracting her and the audience. Other parts of that same organization had set a reasonable standard —regardless of gender, ushers were dressed quite appropriately with non-revealing white blouses/shirts and black pants. The ushers appeared to be more mature and perhaps had learned from experience. Why is there such inconsistency?
Men are not immune to this syndrome of unprofessional attire and should be equally aware of the importance of portraying a professional image.
Organizations that do not set, communicate or and uphold a consistent and professional standard for work attire are doing a disservice to their customers, employees and their own image. Employees are not as productive in such settings. Customers get a poor impression of your business.
It begs the question: What are parents, schools, businesses and the fashion industry teaching people about professional appearance? What kind of judgment (or lack thereof) do employees and employers have? It appears that the offenders don't even realize they are doing something inappropriate.
A few practical pointers for employees:
- Choose modesty over revealing clothes, not only for an interview but also for work.
- Become aware. Look at what people in positions you aspire to attain are wearing — what is appropriate and what is not? Identify a role model after which you can model your attire.
- When in doubt, get an opinion from a teacher, parent, business coach or another respected person in the community.
- Take a course. Alice Swanson offers a workshop called "Learn to Earn" which is designed to help students make the transition from college to career. Swanson states, "I DRILL professional attire into my students. I dress professionally every day that I teach so they can see what is appropriate."
And for employers
- Set a written standard for professional attire in your work environment. Be specific and clear. Ensure there is no double standard — insist that both women and men dress professionally.
- Communicate your standard on an ongoing basis. Share it during orientation sessions. Have your managers be role models.
- Uphold your standard. Send people home and dock their pay if they do not meet the standard. Include professional image in performance reviews. Do not accept less.
Together we can move beyond “T&A” as accepted work attire. Take on the pursuit of professional image as part of your passionate purpose. The result will be better business and career performance.
Theresa M. Szczurek, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of Radish Systems, is a serial technology entrepreneur. The story of her last start-up, which sold for more than $40 million in less than six years, is included, along with her strategies for success, in the Amazon-bestseller Pursuit of Passionate Purpose: Success Strategies for a Rewarding Personal and Business Life. www.RadishSystems.com, www.radishsprouts.typepad.com and @TheresaSzczurek on twitter.