Dress codes broader than ever

Dr Siouxsie Wiles has had pink hair her entire working life. It has nothing to do with her ability to do her job.
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Dr Siouxsie Wiles has had pink hair her entire working life. It has nothing to do with her ability to do her job.

Seamus Hughes pulls his blond dreadlocks into a tight bun shortly before his shift starts. 

The 25 year old is a nurse at Waikato Hospital's emergency department.

He's had dreads for about seven years, since he left high school.  

Seamus Hughes ties his dreads in a tidy bun before heading to work at Waikato Hospital.
MARK TAYLOR FAIRFAX NZ

Seamus Hughes ties his dreads in a tidy bun before heading to work at Waikato Hospital.

"I keep them tidy, they're not messy dreads," he said.

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He thinks it's important to dress tidily in a professional work environment, but also thinks expression has its place. 

Seamus Hughes has had dreads for about seven years.
MARK TAYLOR FAIRFAX NZ

Seamus Hughes has had dreads for about seven years.

Greg Peploe​, director of people and performance at Waikato District Health Board, said that while there are policies, they don't include "highly prescriptive standards in terms of clothing".

The exception is for staff who are required to wear a uniform or other mandated clothing, he said.

"For those staff who do not wear uniforms, we expect people to wear clothing which is both consistent with our health and safety obligations, professional, and doesn't bring the district health board into disrepute.   

Seamus Hughes says having dreads while working at Waikato Hospital is no big deal.
MARK TAYLOR FAIRFAX NZ

Seamus Hughes says having dreads while working at Waikato Hospital is no big deal.

"We acknowledge that what is deemed acceptable is likely to be significantly broader than what may have been the case 20 to 30 years ago.

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"Dreadlocks, tattoos and piercings  are generally acceptable.  However, we would not go so far as to say that any tattoo or piercing is permitted."

Microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles has had pink hair her entire working life. 

Her hair does not reflect her ability to do science, she said. 

But she had experienced prejudice. She's been told that she would have missed out on opportunities if people had known what she looked like before hearing her speak or reading her research. 

Despite that, she's glad she stuck with it. She said dress codes for safety reasons make sense, but dress codes for image reasons could be limiting for the organisation.

People might be put off aspiring to a career in a particular organisation, meaning that the organisation only attracts a limited pool of people.

"In the long run, that may be a really bad thing, as there is plenty of evidence that more diverse organisations make better decisions.

"Flight attendant uniforms are a really good example of how things have changed over time, as the career has changed – they've gone from being a physical representation of an experience that was glamorous and hard to attain for most people, to professionals responsible for more than topping up your cup of tea."

Human Resources Institute of New Zealand chief executive Chris Till said for organisations, it is important to be able to clearly define what is appropriate in your workplace while not being the fashion police.

"Creating a culture of comfort and familiarity would play a part, as companies are more inclined to make their employees feel like they can be themselves."

However, there are still plenty of workplaces where the dress code remains strict. 

"Lawyers are a great example of this, as they need to be seen as professional in every situation of their role." 

Cheryl Green, director of clinical legal education at Waikato University, agrees. Smart dress conveys respect for clients and court.

The expectation of dress is discussed as part of the training, she said. 

"If you've got something really bright and really out there, what happens is the focus comes away from what you're trying to achieve for your client." 

 

 - Stuff

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