Having drafted a pay gap report for my client on a recent assignment I have watched the subject matter area closely; and after working in HR since the late 90s I was not surprised by the overall results. There are plenty of articles about the root cause of the issues, the pros and cons of how the report data is collated and how to tackle the negative trends. However it got me thinking about the deeper cultural issues that drive the difference between men and women and the less discussed issue is that of professional dress.
Think about it yourself next time you are in a meeting, walk through the office or go to a business networking event; look around the room and see how people are dressed. I don’t have to even look outside of my home. I have two distinct wardrobes the spare room and my bedroom; the latter is the daily go to wear ranging from jeans and tops, work dresses, trousers and blouses; the former houses my unworn corporate blue, black and grey suits. In comparison my husbands one wardrobe houses a dry cleaners store stock of shirts, his corporate suits, ties and then causal wear.
The point being unlike 10 years ago I rarely wear suits to work yet still work in a corporate environment; which led me to question when did I stop wearing more masculine work wear and why? I talk to my girlfriends who work in similar workplaces and they are doing the same, so what is driving the change?
There are of course plenty of valid reasons personal choice, work required wear that’s branded or for safety purposes, or a more relaxed look to match the corporate branding environment of younger companies.
However I do believe that the natural life cycle which results in the arrival of younger talent and retirement of older talent and the opening up of better progression opportunities, in particular for female talent is influencing the way we dress at work as women, as well as fashion trends such as tattoos, facial piercings and bright colourful hair.
On the other hand the corporate work wear for men does not seem to be changing at the same pace. Is this to their benefit or not? Does it mean as men still fill the majority of higher paid jobs the corporate suit still affords them power and influence?
There is also the influence of wider cultural progression of a more accepting society that in most parts embraces peoples differences including how they dress. However as I type this article I know that when I next get on the 7am fast train to London from Leeds their will be a very visible gender dress gap.