For, well, ever, the Army required women soldiers to wear their hair in a bun — until recently, when sweeping changes were made to Army grooming standards that allow women to wear ponytails and braids as well.
In part, that change in grooming standards (among others) was made to improve diversity and inclusion. But there are practical reasons as well. Dermatology consultants found that more than half of women experienced tension headaches due to tight buns, and many suffered hair loss.
And then there’s this. Buns often made helmets fit poorly, limiting vision. So some female aviators took their hair down and braided it before flying. Solders often let their hair down and tucked it into their shirts on the firing range.
Yep: You couldn’t do your real job, your (literally) mission-critical job — flying a plane, firing a weapon, seeing clearly — because you had to look “professional.”
Yet it happens all the time.
When I was a manufacturing supervisor, the dress code specified khakis and button-down shirts. Sure, we looked professional, but those of us who had worked their way up through the ranks and knew our way around the machinery no longer wanted to crawl under equipment to help troubleshoot problems. Looking professional got in the way of being professional.
Because being professional has little to do with how you look, and everything to do with doing the job well.
Results matter. Conforming to an arbitrary standard doesn’t.
The same was true where we worked. When my boss (very occasionally) made his way out to the shop floor, he often scolded me because I wasn’t in my office. To him, being professional meant doing desk work. To me, being professional meant making sure we were as productive as possible — and that meant spending as much time out on the production lines as possible. My looking professional — at least in my boss’s eyes — got in the way of being professional.
Because being professional has little to do with where you work, and everything to do with doing the job well.
Results matter. Not butts in seats.
Over the past year, plenty of people dressed differently. Worked from different locations. Worked different schedules. Were less “professional,” at least by conventional standards.
Yet were just as, if not more, professional by the only standard that really matters: Getting the right things done.
So before you go back to business as usual, consider whether some of your policies or guidelines or cultural norms are more arbitrary than justified.
Women soldiers wearing their hair in a bun? Someone, somewhere along the way, decided that was the right look — without considering whether conforming to a grooming standard made a negative impact on outcomes with actual meaning.
Expecting employees to dress a certain way even if they never interact with customers in person? Somewhere along the way you decided that was the right look — but does it actually improve performance? Probably not.
Expecting employees to be in the office every day, even if they’ve spent the last year kicking ass while working remotely? You may think constant physical presence is important — but does it actually improve performance? Probably not.
Take a step back and think about what your business needs to accomplish. If a guideline or cultural norm makes it harder to accomplish any of those things, scrap it. If a guideline or cultural norm doesn’t help to accomplish any of those things, scrap it.
Then your employees will not only accomplish more, but they’ll also feel a greater sense of inclusion.
Since one size never fits all, the fewer arbitrary “sizes” you put in place, the less you — and more importantly, your employees — will need to worry that one of those sizes won’t fit.