Law schools should stop reinforcing gender norms by telling women to wear dresses and skirts to job interviews and to work.
When I was a law student preparing for On Campus Interviewing (“OCI”), the law school administrator gave tips on how to dress appropriately for interviews. She told the men to wear suits and told the women to wear what has traditionally been deemed “feminine attire” – dresses and skirts. She made these advisory statements without regard to the individuals in the room, without regard to the effect that her reinforcement of gender stereotypes would have to at least some of the students who looked to her for guidance.
It’s not just law schools that stifle individuality and try to force diverse students into bland boxes. Work environments, particularly within the legal profession, do it too. Employee handbooks often have guidelines for what constitutes proper work attire. These guidelines usually divide employees into categories of men and women and then proceed to tell the men what is acceptable to wear, e.g., on Fridays in the Summer, it is appropriate to wear short sleeve polo shirts with khakis. For the women, they advise us not to wear skirts, dresses, and shorts that are too short, not to wear open-toe sandals, and to keep our shoulders covered.
You cannot promote diversity and inclusion if, at the same time, you reinforce gender norms and stereotypes. The way to effect change is to actually change.
- PRO TIP 1: Revise employee dress guidelines to remove the arbitrary divisors that distinguish between what men and women should wear. Employers can just as easily provide guidance on professional attire without ascribing masculine and feminine gender norms to entire categories of workers.
- PRO TIP 2: Have confidence in the people hired to fulfill the organization’s mission. Employees are hired because they are believed to be competent. As an attorney, I can say that lawyers are usually hired because, at the least, they are intelligent, communicative, and know how to think critically. These people don’t need employers to tell them when and how to conform to gender stereotypes and norms that they may not subscribe to.
Your ability is not determined by whether you wear dresses.
I got jobs and did well at interviews by being my self: skilled, engaging, inquisitive, creative. I kept jobs by working hard, anticipating needs, and engaging with my coworkers and employers. I received positive feedback from employers by performing my duties well. Not once did I wear a dress or skirt to work or to an interview.