This summer, I had the life-changing experience to intern with the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization. As the Outreach and Engagement Intern, I gained critical experience in coordinating mass movements of social action, such as the #FamiliesBelongTogether marches that occurred around the country, and building strong networks of communication and solidarity through coalition building.
Known for its progressive stances on social policies and forward thinking, it isn’t unusual to think that the Human Rights Campaign would be more relaxed in certain aspects of their organizational culture — including their dress.
For the majority of my internship, I did my key work responsibilities, including discussing with senior leadership, analyzing key stakeholder relationships, and planning intern trainings, while wearing shorts. I’m not talking about your awkward bellow-the-knee length shorts, but styles that succeeded in being both fashionable and comfortable. This is because from early June to Labor Day, employees are permitted to wear shorts in the workplace.
Throughout my internship in DC, I often saw people sweating in 90°F weather in full body suits, long-sleeve button ups, and high heels in the name of professionalism. I found it incredibility interesting that, at its core, it is accepted to neglect temperature when prioritizing presentation when sweat marks and bad odor are not presentable either. It’s almost universally accepted that dress-codes are important for company cultures, but what is less discussed is that, under strict guidelines, they can be quite a hassle, uncomfortable, and even a limitation of productivity. Luckily, there has been much conversation and research around the role of dress-codes in professional settings.
Uncovering elements of successful, high-energy, inclusive, and dynamic organizations is the core focus of Positive Organizational Scholarship. Positive Organizational Scholarship is studied around the world in elite institutions, including at the University of Michigan with the Center for Positive Organizations in the Ross School of Business. In essence, positive psychology’s emphasis on human strengths and happiness is utilized to create the most awesome workplace cultures.
A recent study found that 61% of workers say that a dress code had no positive impact on productivity, and almost half said that their productivity would increase if they could wear what they felt most comfortable in. Considering DC’s temperature for the month of July averaged a steamy, humid 89°F, and that many employees relying on walking or public transportation, at least revamping dress-codes for the summer months should not be too much to ask
Ultimately, I appreciate my workplace’s ability to not only prioritize employee comfort, but to recognize that workplace performance, productivity, confidence, and reputation are not negatively impacted by a more accommodating range of workplace attire. High school dress-codes may have young adults believing differently, but showing calves and knee-caps, are not, in fact, distracters to meeting important deadlines.
In the end, I stand with the view that nothing is inherently unprofessional with shorts. Companies that incorporate shorts into their workplace tend to be more productive, innovative, use less energy, and have amazing company cultures. Wearing black pants to your ankles in the sweltering sun doesn’t inherently make you more respected or productive. I hope that companies begin to trust their employees’ judgments of when certain work days allow for shorts or when a more standardized professional look is needed. It’s time we have a wider conversation around the changing expectations of employee comfort and presentation.
Na’kia is a student at the University of Michigan pursuing a BA in Organizational Studies and a BA in International Studies. She is heavily involved in the Michigan Daily as a Senior Editor of the section Michigan in Color. When she’s not editing her LinkedIn, creating fun to-do lists, or reading about Google, you can find her reading poetry, meeting new and interesting people, listening to comedy podcasts, and chasing her cat.