Dressing for Work: are school dresses preparation for future careers?

“Looking ‘business-like’, ‘dressing the part’, power-dressing’ in the corporate world and being ‘taken seriously’ in the halls of parliament.”

Preparing schoolgirls for the world of work is still given as a reason for dress and skirt-only uniform policies.

Let’s look at workplaces that require women to wear a dress…

The world of work has transformed dramatically over the decades for women. No Australian workplace can insist on women wearing skirts or dresses, because it’s against the law. If they did, it would be considered discrimination and action could be taken against employers under the Anti-Discrimination Act: workplace dress codes need to apply equally to men and women.

Modern workplaces focus on staff wearing clothes that are practical and comfortable, offer suitable protection and are appropriate for client work.  Female Police Officers stopped wearing skirts in the ’90s because they were not practical for running.  PwC Australia, very much ‘corporate world,’ recently replaced their dress code. They no longer list acceptable clothing but give a simple message:

“Staff should dress in a way that makes them feel great, is respectful to clients and colleagues, and safe and appropriate for the environment they are in.”

Employees’ output matters more than what they wear

Giving employees strict rules on workwear is now outdated. The majority of workers can make their own decisions on what they wear.  Most employees understand that how they dress has an impact.  The focus is, as it should be, on outcomes and producing good work.

Anthony Mitchell, co-founder and chairman of Australian strategic leadership firm Bendelta says:

Telling adults what to wear to work is completely out of step with a 21st century economy, in which employees should be trusted knowledge workers.”

Management consultancy firm, Deloitte says: “We are much more concerned about our people’s ideas than what they wear.”

Girls want to judged on their ability, not their looks

We know young women feel judged more on their looks than their ability and talent. We know we still have a problem with sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace. Perhaps schools could prepare schoolgirls for the world of work by teaching them that what they say and do matters more than their clothes. That giving their ideas and opinions, and building connections serves them better than conforming to outdated notions of ‘femininity.’

Radio 2SM Radio host, John Laws, said earlier this year that he insists on women working with him to wear skirts to accentuate their ‘femininity’.  That’s outrageously sexist, and illegal.

It makes you wonder how schools can insist on dresses and skirts for girls when workplaces no longer do.  Our schools need to modernise uniform options for girls to keep up with the workplace.

Join our Women At Work campaign

We launched our Women At Work campaign today where we look at modern workplaces and the diversity of work that women do – in their pants.  Let’s show schools and schoolgirls the fabulous pant-wearing world of work!  Challenging sexism, objectification, and inequality may be a better focus for schools in preparing schoolgirls for their future.