Office Politics 101: Distracted by the way they dress

Q: I work in a medium-sized office with about 20 staff. There are two women who frequently dress in a way that distracts the men— including me. I’ve discussed the matter with some co-workers and we would like the women to dress more conservatively. How can we communicate our concerns?

A: These women, I would guess, are either relatively young — and naïve — or somewhat older and are using revealing clothing as a way to attract the attention of males. I will assume it is the latter.

It is no accident these two women are choosing to wear clothing that emphasizes their physical attributes. They are doubtless well aware men can often be visually stimulated and, as you have noted, it is distracting for many of you.

You should be cautious in how you address the matter because, as a man, speaking with them — even casually — could upset them and may even cause them to accuse you of sexual harassment, should the conversation become confrontational.

In addition, unlike a school or religious organization, for example, you probably don’t have a written dress code that can easily be enforced. The women may be dressing provocatively, but they are likely not violating any company regulations.

There are at least two options available to you that you may wish to consider.

One option would be to informally share your concerns with another woman employee who could become your unofficial advocate. She might be willing to speak with them individually, woman-to-woman.

Another option would be to candidly discuss the issue with someone — preferably a woman — in your HR department. She may be open to confidentially communicating your concerns and could make the point using tact and discretion.

In either case, should you have the support of a significant number of male co-workers, you could speak with more authority knowing you represent their views, not just your own.

While I agree these women should be sensitive to their male colleagues and not provoke attention in this way, it may be a challenge to have them modify their “dress code” without a degree of resistance and tension.

Submit your confidential questions relating to work and office life to simongibson@shaw.ca

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