Gone are the days when pinstripe suits and stripy ties or below the knee A-line skirt suits were mandatory for those working in finance, a change applauded by many but lamented by some. However the end of a universal code around what is appropriate attire in the workplace has left much room for debate on what is acceptable today. Can you engage your finance grey matter whilst wearing flip-flops?
The media furore surrounding the now infamous case of a receptionist being sent home from her post at PwC for refusing to wear high-heels on the job is one such case. But what is an appropriate dress code for accountants and others working in the sector? According to a recent report from online job board, CV-Library, less than one in three respondents (27%) working in accountancy feel that smart work-wear is outdated. Amongst IT professionals, by comparison, this figure stood at 54%. Within design, a whopping 69% believe strict dress codes have had their day.
Of course different sectors have different expectations, but we cannot escape the fact that what we wear influences how others perceive us. In fact, just last year the Social Mobility Commission reported that subtle social cues, such as wearing brown shoes with business attire, can scupper the chances of some candidates within the financial services sector who fail to fit the mould.
However, we must be mindful of the fact that the bar on what is judged to be ‘smart’ and therefore ‘acceptable’ is not only subjective but also a moving target. It was only in 2017, for example, that male MPs were no longer required to wear a tie in Parliament – the break in convention was not welcomed by all, with some commentators voicing concerns about the move reducing public respect for government.
We have written extensively on the need for accounting professionals to hone their networking skills, to get out into the company and build relationships, for finance to be immersed in the business. With that in mind, wear what your non-finance colleagues wear. Don’t be the finance bod in the suit if your stakeholders are in jeans and T-shirts, they’ll have written you off before you started talking. Be mindful of company culture and workday norms, mirroring and matching the people you want to build relationships with. Today, hardly any of the accounting professionals we work with wear suits or ties, but the vast majority look ‘smart’ in chinos, a skirt or smart jeans along with a shirt and shoes (even brown ones… or flat ones). But for interviews, err on the side of overdressing, but within reason. We recently heard of a candidate arriving for interview in full Victorian dress. They got the job.
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