This case study will explore the rules and laws governing women’s dress codes and gender dynamics within the workforce, including the shift in diversity training from compliance to sensitivity to inclusion. Within this context, research by Barbara Mazur and Politechnika Bialostocka, and its implications regarding the “dimensions of diversity,” is key to our discussion. The case study also draws on an analysis by Julie L Ozanne, Canan Corus, and Bige Saatcioglu, which adds insight regarding “deliberative democracy” and its potential for expanding diversity through collective decision making. The case study also offers a short history of diversity training based on the research of Rohini Anand and Mary-Frances Winters. Other research is used to explore issues relevant to the goal of achieving a more participatory process in the work place that moves the discussion on this issue beyond compliance and toward inclusion.


According to Sarah Bond, in an article that provides a short history of regulating female dress, telling women what to wear and what not to wear has served as a means for controlling communities politically since ancient times (Bond 2016). Bond begins her evaluation of dress requirements and restrictions for women in ancient Sparta during the 4th century BCE, where officials were appointed to surveille the actions of women. This was done to “assure proper and uniform attire” (Bond 2016). According to Bond, controlling the type and color of women’s clothing helped the ancient Greeks maintain a social hierarchy (Bond 2016).

In ancient Rome, where females of the same period are described as having considerably more freedom in choosing their attire, women were still subject to “sumptuary laws.” These regulations were drafted by high ranking Roman men to keep women from dressing above their station, which was a crime (Bond 2016). Only “reputable women of social stature” were allowed to wear certain robes and colors in these societies as symbols of virtue and status (Bond 2016).

In western society today, restrictions on female dress codes are indicative that the control of women’s wardrobes by elite males, who hold positions of authority, is still ongoing. For instance, in an Everyday Feminism article, Ally Boguhn discusses dress code double standards and discrimination faced by women in the work place. Boguhn says many of today’s work place dress codes require women to wear high heels, make up, and certain hair styles in order to be deemed preferred or professional, while the requirements for men are few. The expectation is said to be even higher for black women whose natural hair is often deemed “political” or “inappropriate” and often leads to insults and shaming remarks at work (Boguhn 2015). In contrast, men today, are simply required to wear a suit and tie.

Most important, Boguhn says the ideal governing what is deemed appropriate for women to wear in the work place is based in the “white male gaze” (Boguhn 2015). Non conformity may result in cruel comments, reduced opportunities for advancement and complaints within a woman’s work unit about her appearance (Boguhn 2015)

Yet, there are instances where some women seem to go along willingly with outrageous dress code requirements. For example, take an article in CNN Money (2016) on the women of Fox News, which discusses workplace culture and treatment of women. In this article, female news reporters and anchors, both support and criticize Fox News Chief Roger Ailes for allegedly restricting women from wearing pants on air. Ailes, who has been accused on several occasions of harassment, by women who worked at Fox, has long faced accusations of exploiting women’s appearance, through dress code requirements – for ratings.

In this account, former Fox News Anchor Kiran Chetny says she feels Fox puts more emphasis on appearance than any of the other news networks. Likewise, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik says female guests and anchors were routinely positioned in ways to allow the best camera angle, using what he describes as “the leg cam,” to showcase women’s legs (CNN Money 2016).

Dress requirements for news anchors on Fox are often criticized as being hyper sexualized due to the short length of the dresses and skirts worn by the women reporters. The question is whether or not Fox is imposing the “no pants” dress requirement on women in an effort to appeal to its primarily older and male audience? Another question is what if one of these woman decided to show up every day in pants or a dress several inches below her knees? How long would she remain a Fox News reporter or anchor?

According to a report by Carolyn Leaper in Axios, President Donald Trump has issued a directive similar to Fox’s to his own female staff members. Trump is reported to have said that he likes women who work for him to “dress like women” (Leaper 2017). Of course, in the absence of any written requirement to define Trump’s intent, it cannot be assumed that he means for White House staffers to dress in short skirts that show skin in the same manner as the ladies of Fox. However, given Trump’s reputation with the ladies and his beauty pageant escapades, being left to guess what his comments imply for women in his employ is probably not a good idea.

Leaper cites the Axios report as saying women working for Trump reported feeling pressured to wear dresses (Leaper 2017). Trump’s public image, one of being obsessed with women’s appearances, would hardly lessen the pressure on women. Conforming to his presumed, albeit unwritten, professional dress code standard in order to fit in with Trump’s world might be seen by some women as a required rite of passage.

Ironically, the future of workplace dress codes is likely to see input by a younger generation of workers, including women, who are less malleable to adhering to egalitarian dress standards that impose on their personal freedom. A Solo Magazine article by Harold Goldner discusses dress codes in the advent of the new Gen-X’ers, Gen Y’ers, and Millennials (Goldner 2010). In Goldner’s evaluation we learn that new attitudes about dress codes are now prevailing in the work place and there is no longer a set prescription that men must dawn ties and women must wear skirts.

For example, this new generation of workers prefers wearing less formal styles at work, including piercings, body art, tattoos and other body adornments (Goldner 2010). As such, this poses some issues for an employer’s right to establish dress codes and to determine standards for hair styles and body adornment (Goldner 2010). It also raises a very good question. How do you determine social status in an office where bosses and employees alike wear dress down attire every day?

Then there is the reality that dress codes exist for a reason, including maintaining ethical and safety standards in the work place. However, while bosses may yearn for compliance to dress codes, workers may place more value on personal freedom. In moving toward the best practices it may be good to know what the actual legal requirements are that govern the debate over what is “professional” attire, especially for women, in the work place.

Theory Inflected Analysis:

Boguhn says today’s dress codes are recorded in the policy guides and handbooks of employers (Boguhn 2015). Clearly, drafting any professional dress code depends on the circumstances that exist within various work settings and how they intersect with existing legal requirements. But what does the law say about these codes and how do they relate to gender?

The case of Jespersen v. Harrah’s Operating Company neatly summarizes current law governing gender-specific dress codes. The question in this case was whether or not a company dress code, requiring women only to wear makeup, “imposed a disproportionate burden on women than it did on men” (Nelson 2017).  Ms. Jaspersen was an employee at a Harrah’s Casino in Nevada, who was fired from her job, where she worked as a bartender. She lost her job for refusing to wear make-up because, as she said, it “conflicted with her self-image” (Nelson 2017). Her lawsuit was filed under Title VII, the federal anti-job discrimination law, which stipulates work place dress codes should not impose disproportionate burdens on either sex (Nelson 2017).

The Court ruled that it could not assume it was any more difficult for women to put on makeup every day than it was for men to get periodic haircuts or trim their fingernails. Nelson said, “Many people who read that line assumed that only a man could have written it” (Nelson 2017). The implication is that dress code requirements often elicit differing responses across gender lines and this includes legal attempts to determine the objective truth about the soundness of such codes (Nelson 2017).

Rohini Anand and Mary-Francis Winters provide further insight about issues of legislation in their evaluation of the history of corporate diversity training from 1964 to the late 1990’s. The research colleagues say diversity planning, which helps organizations inform their managers and employees regarding issues relevant to race and gender, began with a focus on legislation and compliance (Anand and Winters, p.357-359). The implication for women and work place dress codes is that these requirements would have been decreed from elite, likely male, managers on high and not as a result of open discussion.

After the Civil Rights Act of 1964, training was developed based on laws that prohibited discrimination based on color, race, sex, religion, or national origin. This led to the creation of the Equality Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that served as the agency to identify and address discrimination (Anand and Winters, p.357). The importance here for gender is that any training on issues regarding women was considered part of the overall genre of diversity training.

Resulting in the most intense civil rights legislation effort to date, the 1970’s were all about increasing racial and gender diversity (Anand and Winters p.357). As a result, during the 1980’s, numbers for both minorities and women were increasing in the workforce. The employees who had been recruited were required to blend into the work place culture they were entering. Assimilation became the focus of diversity training. As such, once again, dress code requirements for women were, more often than not, imposed and predetermined by their male superiors.

During the late 1980’s and 1990’s the focus for diversity training became sensitivity (Anand and Winters p.357). The reality for this time period is that despite the goals for assimilation, corporations could hardly meet their affirmative action goals. Retention of employees was difficult during the period from 1965 to 1988 and progress is described as slow (Anand and Winters, p.358).

Anand and Winters reference analysis by Johnson and Parker (1987) entitled “Workforce 2000,” which predicted increases in women and minorities in the workforce (Anand and Winters, p.358). But while the numbers increased, too little attention had been paid to how women and minorities might form effective work relationships with members of the dominant (white male) workforce that was already in place. In addition, the existing “glass ceiling” for women and minorities was ignored. The focus, which began with conformity and shifted to sensitivity, including efforts to foster assimilation, would necessarily progress toward a goal of creating and inclusive work environment. Today the goal for diversity training is described as “managing diversity” instead of “affirmative action” (Anand and Winters, p.359).

Regarding the ongoing effort to achieve the goal of inclusion, Mazur and Bialostocka frame three dimensions of diversity: primary, secondary and tertiary, which are described as “intertwined” or interacting with one another. The research colleagues says the primary dimension includes gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, age and mental or physical abilities and characteristics (Mazur and Bialostocka, p.7). Our world-view and self-image is shaped in this dimension, which she describes as having the most impact on groups in the workplace and society. The characteristics in the primary dimension, she says, “will carry less weight in more circumstances than the secondary dimensions” (Mazur and Bialostocka, p.6).

Secondary dimensions are not as visible like primary dimensions but have more variable influence on our personal identity. The colleagues describe the secondary dimension as including, educational background, geographic location, religion, first language, family status, work style, work experience, military experience, organizational role, and level of income and communication style (Mazur and Bialostocka, p.6). Another category, the tertiary dimensions, which exists at the core of individual identity and describes essentially below the surface characteristics. It includes historical experiences, beliefs, assumptions perceptions, attitudes, feelings, values and group norms (Mazur and Bialostocka, p.6).

The intertwining of these varied dimensions implies the management of diversity is a challenge. For instance, while race (or gender) may be described as a more dominant dimension than education, Mazur and Bialostocka imply that secondary dimensions like education can be expected to become increasingly dominant in many future workplace settings (Mazur and Bialostocka, p.7). The current goal of inclusion and the possibility for changing dimensions of diversity may offer more opportunities for women to share their beliefs and attitudes within the work place on issues like dress code requirements. Does this mean women can soon expect an end to the kind of discrimination that stifles their inclusion in the work place?

Mazur and Bialostocka, like Anand and Winters, agree a change in exclusionary practices is coming. However, the researchers say a need to achieve solidarity with like groups based on race and gender or cultural norms increases when the workplace becomes moderately heterogeneous. This occurs when women and minorities start joining work units (Mazur and Bialostocka, p.8). This results in sub groups being excluded and in/out groups being formed. Fortunately, Mazur and Bialostocka cite Blau (1977) in explaining, “…high levels of heterogeneity, or increasing numbers of women and minorities, could actually weaken these barriers.”  For as Blau asserts, “In groups with high levels of cultural heterogeneity, every- day social contacts and communication are more likely to involve members of different racial/gender groups” (Mazur and Bialostocka, p.8).

To this end, Mazur and Bialostocka also outline the potential advantages of diversity and how it might change future workforces. They cite Cox, Lobel and MacLeod (1991), who say, “There is substantial literature which argues that diversity has performance advantages over homogeneous work structures” (Mazur and Bialostocka, p.9). While Mazur and Bialostocka provides five examples to make their point, one point in particular stands out. It is the expectation that diversity will provide better problem solving results in multicultural environments due to the expanded perspectives on meanings. This has particular implications for gender because the underlying assumption here is that diversity, including gender, will allow more ways to deal with complex issues. Citing Rotter & O’Connell (1982), the research colleagues describe women as having a “higher tolerance for ambiguity than men,” providing women a potential advantage in the cross cultural meaning making process of corporate discourse (Mazur and Bialostocka, p.8). Diverse organizations also are said to be less inclined to engage in “groupthink.”

It stands to reason that diverse or multicultural organizations may have a harder time working together to reach goals and objectives. However, diversity planning exists to break down barriers between cultures and foster an environment of inclusion and acceptance. Organizations would do well to recognize the importance of Mazur and Bialostocka prescription for achieving a well-rounded, competitive work environment that draws a large pool of employees from all walks of life. The competitive advantage here lies in the fact that a diverse pool of qualified individuals who bring different experiences to the table are more able to bounce ideas off one another. They are, therefore, more innovative and effective in the workplace. Achieving a higher level of heterogeneity or inclusion in the work place will require a more deliberative democracy to exist. This will offer a better opportunity for women’s voices on issues, including work place attire, to be heard. So how do we achieve this level of deliberation and democracy?

According to Julie L Ozanne, Canan Corus, and Bige Saatcioglu, “Deliberative democracy is a form of governance in which equal citizens and their representatives give public reasons that are accessible and comprehensible to support collective decision making” (Ozanne, Corus and Sattcioglu, p.29). This open method of communication is essential to a well-functioning work group. The researchers suggests that “Deliberative and inclusive processes (D.I.P.’s) involve some form of social interaction, usually face-to-face, in which stakeholders with different perspectives engage in reasoned debate (Ozanne, Corus and Sattcioglu, p.29).

Stakeholders who have previously been excluded are invited to participate, and it is assumed that people will respect the rights of others to hold different positions if they can defend these positions with good reasons. It is also assumed that a careful consideration of a range of evidence and perspectives will lead to greater self- and collective understanding, even if a consensual solution does not emerge” (Ozanne, Corus and Sattcioglu, p.29-30) This philosophy could be particularly helpful when blending a homogeneous work group into a heterogeneous one. D.I.P.’s. allow all parties to have a voice, and to come to a conclusion that would be best for all parties involved. Such interaction could have a profound impact on dress codes governing women’s professional attire. However, differences of opinion on this subject are bound to continue.

To understand the difficulties to achieving input through deliberative democracy, Cynthia Stohl and George Cheny offer insight regarding impediments to achieving democracy in environments where employees have different ideals and values (Stohl and Cheny, p.353).

The four paradoxes identified by Stohl and Cheny, are:

  • Paradox of Structure: Involves participation in democracy. For example, we may not have ample time to complete a true planning process that includes everyone.
  • Paradox of Agency – Involves an individual’s sense of efficacy within the structure. For instance, the attitude might be “Here are our rules, policies and the uniform you will wear, but feel free to be yourself, after all that is why we hired you.”
  • Paradox of Identity – Involves self/micro managing to meet team goals.
  • Paradox of Power – This is a specific power within an organization. The elite position might be “I hired you for your expertise, but make sure you are doing everything that I told you I need from you”(Cheney 360).

All of these examples not only impede the process of democracy, but they also create a system where diversity and inclusion means, we define — and you comply.

The inherent problem with diversity training across the board lies not with the recruitment of qualified individuals, but the retention of those individuals, particularly after they get stuck by the glass ceiling that tends to slow or halt women and marginalized groups from advancing in the workplace. This phenomenon is particularly apparent in homogeneous work groups. Training strategies, such as those used by Sodexo and Hewitt Associates, as referenced by Anand and Winters, are essential to create a work environment that embraces diversity on all levels. This allows the fair and equitable exchange of ideas that is necessary for all stakeholders to thrive.

According Anand and Winters’ research: “The stated objectives for Hewitt’s ‘Power of World View Training’ are: To better understand ourselves and how our own world view shapes our beliefs and behaviors; To better understand the world views of others, and; To begin to understand how to work effectively across cultures to enhance the work we do.” and “The full-day ‘Spirit of Diversity’ course at Sodexo strives to: (1) heighten awareness; (2) build skills; and (3) clarify the expectations and responsibilities of managers to create and maintain a diverse and inclusive workplace.” (Anand and Winters, p.368)

For women who desire more input into shaping their work place dress code is clear, inclusion in the workplace will lead to an environment equipped to handle the growing demands for cultural and gender equality. Thus, shattering the glass ceiling and fostering a culture where participation at all levels is valued and expected. As Stohl and Cheney’s research states: “a culture of participation exists wherein at least some efforts are made to democratize the processes of work, although motives and degrees of action are highly variable across organizations.” (Stohl and Cheny, p.357)

Analysis of the Outcome:

It seems reasonable then to conclude that in an increasingly global workforce secondary dimensions like education and cultural awareness will be more highly valued than race and gender within highly heterogeneous work settings. However, where gender is a factor, and in domestic organizations where homogeneity is likely to remain, women may remain marginalized and dress codes will likely not be a democratic choice. This is because in more homogeneous workplaces, where diversity is not strong, primary dimensions like race and gender may still result in “outsider” status for marginalized populations.

Ultimately, Anand and Winters says industries worldwide can expect to see changing employee and customer demographics due to increasing globalization and a lack of trained workers who can meet the challenges of jobs involving new technology. A technically trained workers is crucial to American competitiveness and this will require a diverse workforce that is highly skilled. (Anand and Winters, p.361).

Confirming the changing demographics, Anand and Winters cites a personal communication by C. A. Young, General Manager, Chevron Services Company (2007), to explain that Chevron, who has been conducting diversity training for decades, is evolving from an “affirmative action-based training” to training which seeks to leverage higher performance through diversity (Anand and Winters, p.361).

The implications for gender and women working in more highly educated and technical or global workforces is that they will likely find a more deliberative democracy at play. These women will, therefore, have more input into the process of deciding the codes that govern them, including professional dress codes. This level of organizational justice is necessary to achieving the perception of fairness in the work place necessary to positively impact the dimensions of diversity and for achieving the goal of inclusion.

Works Cited:

Anand, Rohini and Winters, Mary-Frances. “A Retrospective View of Corporate Diversity Training from 1964 to the Present.” Academy of Management Learning & Education 7.3 (2008): 356-372. Print.

Boguhn, Ally. “Dress Codes Double Standards, and 4 other subtle ways women face discrimination at work.” Everyday Feminism (2015). Web 20 Mar 2017. http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/sexism-at-work/

Bond, Sarah. “What not to wear: A short history of regulating female dress from ancient Sparta to the Burkini.” Forbes. Web 20 Mar 2017 https://www.forbes.com/sites/drsarahbond/2016/08/31/a-short-history-of-regulating-female-dress/#3c55b26e58f1

Goldner, Harold M. “You’re going to wear that? Appearance in the workplace.” GP Solo Magazine (2010). Web 20 Mar 2017. http://www.americanbar.org/content/newsletter/publications/gp_solo_magazine_home/gp_solo_magazine_index/goldner.html

Klundt, Tom. “Women of Fox News defend Roger Ailes and their workplace.” CNN Media (2016). Web 20 Mar 2017.  http://money.cnn.com/2016/07/13/media/fox-news-roger-ailes-gretchen-carlson/

Leaper, Caroline. “Donald Trump’s directive that female staff should ‘dress like women’ causes another social media backlash.” The Telegraph (2017). Web 20 Mar 2017. https://www.google.com/amp/www.telegraph.co.uk/fashion/people/donald-trumps-directive-female-staff-should-dress-like-women/amp/

Mazur, Barbara and Bialostocka, Politechnika. “Cultural Diversity in Organisational Theory and Practice.” Journal of Intercultural Management 2.2 (2010): 5-15. Print.

Nelson, Robert S. “Rules and Issues Involving Gender-Specific Dress Codes” Nelson Law Group. Web 20 Mar 2017 http://www.rnelsonlawgroup.com/Articles/Rules-and-Risks-for-Gender-Specific-Dress-Codes.shtml

Ozanne, Julie L., Canan Corus, and Bige Saatcioglu. “Ozanne, Corus and Sattcioglu: Implications for public policy and marketing.” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing 28.1 (2009): 29-40.

Stohl, Cynthia and Cheny, George. “Participatory Processes / Paradoxical Practices: Communication and the dilemmas of Organizational Democracy.” Management Communication Quarterly, 14:3 (2001): 349-40

Yang, Yang, and A. M. Konrad. “Understanding Diversity Management Practices: Implications of Institutional Theory and Resource-Based Theory.” Group & Organization Management 36.1 (2011): 6-38. Print