With issues surrounding gender identity in the workplace attracting increased publicity and media attention, many employers are seeking guidance on how they can update their policies on dress code and other aspects of gender identity to facilitate a more inclusive working environment. Virgin Atlantic has recently received praise for leading the change on dress code requirements.
Dress code policies
It is often beneficial for both employers and employees for there to be dress code policies in place for staff to follow. However, guidance from both the government and Acas highlights the importance of ensuring that any dress code policy does not inadvertently discriminate. This has traditionally been considered in the context of ensuring that men and women are subject to same or equivalent dress codes. However, recently the attention has shifted to how dress code policies can impact those who do not identify with their sex assigned at birth or do not fall within the traditional gender binary.
Virgin Atlantic has been praised for recent changes to its dress code policy made as part of its ethos of being “the most inclusive airline”. All Virgin Atlantic staff including pilots, cabin crew and ground staff will now be able to choose the uniform they feel most comfortable wearing, regardless of how they identify. This change is reported to have been positively received by employees, with the policy being lauded as an example of how staff can be actively encouraged to be their authentic selves at work. American television personality Michelle Visage has been a vocal supporter of the move and featured in the promotional material for the campaign, stating that the efforts made by Virgin to foster inclusivity are “extremely important and personal” to her. It seems likely that other companies will seek to follow suit, with Disney being another high-profile example of a company amending its requirements to allow employees more freedom to choose clothing that suits their gender identity.
Government guidance on the issue states that it is advisable to avoid gender-specific prescriptive requirements. This echoes the calls from LGBTQ+ activists who wish to avoid the scenario where people do not feel able to express their true gender identity in the workplace. For purely commercial reasons it is generally beneficial for businesses to create a workplace where individuals feel welcomed, regardless of their gender identity, in order to attract and retain the best talent. Importantly, it is also unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 to discriminate against an individual on the basis of gender reassignment. Whilst this does not directly relate to avoiding gendered dress codes, removing such requirements is one of the steps employers can take to help trans* individuals feel more welcome and able to thrive in the workplace.
The dress code policy implemented by Virgin Atlantic is part of its wider initiative to review its policies surrounding gender identity. This initiative has also included allowing time off for individuals undergoing gender reassignment, mandatory inclusivity training for all employees and the optional use of pronoun badges for staff. As well as this, passengers who do not identify as male or female will be able to use “U” or “X” gender codes when booking flights. These steps highlight the types of positive action that employers may choose to take in order to ensure that employees of all gender identities feel comfortable and welcomed in the workplace.
It is clear that there is still progress to be made with regards to trans* inclusion in the workplace as a whole, but with increasing numbers of employers reviewing their policies and assessing how they can be adapted, progress is certainly being made. When employers take proactive steps, such as by introducing inclusivity training to improve awareness of the issues faced by trans* colleagues or encouraging cisgender employees to highlight their pronouns in order to normalise this practice, it can make a major difference. It is encouraging to see an increasing number of employers adopt this approach, and changes such as those made by Virgin Atlantic are fundamental in leading the change towards diverse and inclusive work environments.
If you have any questions or would benefit from guidance in supporting your employees with their gender identity, please do not hesitate to get in touch with Dentons’ PRM team.