Living in this wonderful Metropolis called London it is so rich in diversity, in many places step outside, get on the tube or walk down the road and you’ll hear a host of different languages from many who look like you and me. I have always lived in London but traveled to many places across the globe and have friends from all parts of the world, which through them and my experience nourishes my knowledge and passion for people and fashion.
My background is Human Resources and includes diversity. I am an advocate for diversity and passionate about people. People from diverse backgrounds bring so much to a work place and business. I recall in one organisation we always celebrated religious festivals like Diwali , staff would bring food and even wear traditional dress to work, only for one day.
The staff loved to see the colourful outfits and embraced the culture. In another organisation where I worked my colleague used to wear her hijab to match her western outfits. For instance if she wore a yellow cardigan then her hijab would be yellow. As a lover of colour, style and all things different I was so impressed because she could be herself. She still wanted to be respectful to her religion and her beliefs but also wanted to be trendy and to ‘fit in’ with the office environment.
As I reflect on her, myself and other colleagues treated her no different and we were always curious as to what colour hijab she would be wearing in the morning.
In another company I worked along side a successful Pakistani consultant. She refused to ‘conform’ to traditional western business dress of business suits, skirts, dresses, trousers and blouses. She always wore a Salwar Kameez (Indian Tunic and Trousers) in business colours – grey, black, navy, brown. I recall seeing her in pinstripe (just like a pinstripe suit) and I was blown away. As she looked fabulous in her traditional clothes with a western business twist and bright handbag, very stylish on trend shoes and jewellery. Put her next to any other city professional she would fit in with just a twist. At business meetings with her clients and potential clients no one talked to her differently because she wasn’t dressed like them. But she was dressed for business and always looked very smart.
Another example is my sister who lives in Ghana. Business/western dress is always expected in commercial businesses but on Friday she could wear traditional fabrics (wax cloth brightly coloured) to work. In the UK this would be our version of dress down Fridays. She was always smart and on trend in her wax cloth made into western clothes. Even now in England she still wears her wax cloth outfits on a Friday and always gets compliments.
These women have always stood out to me because they were true to their religions and cultural values with a western twist. They were not forced to compromise what they believed to fit in.
In the UK we are obsessed with trying to fit in and be normal. What is normal? Is it what everyone else is wearing? To me that’s what I refer to as clones. In many organisations women all look very similar and wear the same style and colours, buying their work outfits from shops like Marks and Spencer. Now, there is nothing wrong with buying work clothes from Marks and Spencer but dressed from head to toe and everything in between makes you look the same as your colleague. Where’s the individuality and showing your personality? I know that certain businesses/industry they have an unspoken uniform for their staff yet many show their individuality with their accessories.
The issue is do you compromise your religion, beliefs and culture to fit in and to be liked or do you stay true to yourself? If you are running your own business and want to have a diverse range of clients, do you feel the need or pressure to wear western clothes or not to wear a hijab because of the fear you won’t be accepted by clients due to people’s opinions? With your own business you have to remember that people buy from people because they like the product too. If you want to wear your traditional/religious dress, why not? If it turns a customer off, then they are superficial and not really your potential client. You still need to dress smart for business but it is also about your product/services and the great customer service/customer experience you offer
The business world has changed over the last 5-7 years with its global footprint and customers too. Businesses are doing more and more international business and are employing a diverse workforce, including women who wear their hijab, who are just seen as part of the workforce and treated like every employee. Before you apply, research the company, not just their website but if you are able to go to their offices in the peak times – morning, lunchtime and evening – you’ll be able to get a feel of the dress code. This is the same thing I tell my clients who have interviews and don’t know what to wear.
Working with a very famous brand here in London, it is heavily male dominated and over 30,000 have to wear a uniform. Some are able to wear suits instead and many I have seen opt for a pin-stripe. A pinstripe/chalk stripe (wide stripe) has a great impact, they look very distinguished and professional. Just like the consultant who wore a Salwar Kameez in pinstripe. I was at a meeting with her when she walked in one day and I saw the people in the meeting look up, some even stopped talking. Not because she looked terrible but she had presence and had a professional air about her. The focus was what she was talking about and not what she was wearing.
Be comfortable in your place of work and with yourself. You can be trendy like my friend/colleague who wore her hijab and matched it with whatever colour she was wearing that day. Or the consultant who wore traditional dress but in business colours with western accessories. She had presence when she walked in a room. Always remember that first impressions are lasting impressions and you never get a second chance to make a first impression.