Professionalism.. doesn’t that word feel like bs? If you follow me on TikTok, Facebook or Instagram you may have already seen a little sneak peak on this subject. I’m not a huge fan of “professionalism” and how it is used against us.
By definition professionalism is the competence or skill expected of a professional, but what does that look like?
My Professional Experience
In my “professional” career I’ve found professionalism to be bs. Technically I’m a professional in Human Resources. I have a PHR certification that I paid a stupid amount of money to prep for & take a test on. Sure, I was REALLY good at what I did but it’s not because I had that certification – it’s because I loved the idea behind what I did. I loved my mission. I wanted to help people and my career was a way that I could do that. I left HR when it no longer resonated with me. I refused to return to HR because I didn’t want to work directly for corporations anymore – I wanted to work for people. And now, that’s what I do. And I LOVE what I do.
Now I get to use my “professional” skills to help people scratch that itch that there might be something more to life. I help people realize their full potential. I help people grow into who THEY want to be – not who they’re expected to be. So sure my professional experience helps me but if we are being honest I’m good at what I do because it aligns with me AND it aligns with me from my home, in my unprofessional oversized sweaters and shorts.
But I’ve had it easy when it comes to professionalism. Even if I wore “unconventional” clothing to the office I was still a small, white, cis woman which gave me immense privilege in the workplace. Professionalism is a much deeper subject when we look at it from an intersectional feminist perspective.
Professional Dress: Sexist and Racist
Our current definition of professionalism is layered with sexism and racism. While the definition on paper does not depict a specific attire or aesthetic most of us have experienced the biased societal definition of a professional needing to wear formal western clothing with specific hairstyles.
For women this dress code is exceptionally oppressive and can often require skirts and tights or heels. It requires women to change how they appear normally for the comfort of their employer. Professional or business wear can require women to wear neutral nail polish, slick back hair, neutral clothing, less makeup for a “natural” look or some makeup to look “fresh faced”. Think Hillary Clinton style pant suits but only in neutral colors (so an absolute bore). Women cannot wear baggy or tight clothing if they want to look “professional” and they must maintain a cheery and positive demeanor for fear of coming off as too much. *cough bs cough*
For the Black community the definition of “professional” wear becomes even more oppressive. Many organizations do not support Black employees wearing their hair in protective or natural styles – such styles such as locs have even been referred to as unprofessional by employers. This is racist. It’s a problem in the professional world and employers are given immense amounts of freedom to design their dress codes in a way that discriminates.
Employer dress codes and professional appearances were created because employers want employees to “represent the company” but by doing this they are forcing employees to stop representing themselves and their cultures.
Professionalism in Action
To drive the point further, even when employers create appropriate and respectful dress codes this does not prevent the discrimination employees face internally. Minorities in the workplace often face discrimination based on how they dress, how they present themselves and how they wear their hair and makeup. For POC this continues into comments on diet choices (cultural food being accused of stinking up the break room), asking BIPOC to code switch or stop using AAVE (African American Vernacular English) or participating in the tokenism of POC to show that they are a culture of inclusivity.
I believe that you should get to decide what your professional life looks like. I believe that it is bs that companies get to decide dress codes and determine professionalism based on what makes their white male leadership comfortable. I want people to get to decide how what they do everyday aligns with who they want to be. I help my clients find and work for companies (or themselves) in a way that aligns with their values and honors their authenticity without tokenism or discrimination. Ready to take the first step on reclaiming professionalism? dm me about coaching. Let’s make you happy with what you do!