How not to recruit – gender specific job roles and the latest thinking on dress code

“Don’t judge a book by its cover”

Remember the whole ‘Equality Act 2010’ thing? Well, an elite recruitment firm in London is in serious danger of breaching it, as well as being pretty offensive along the way. They have been advertising gender specific job roles – generally a big no-no under the Act, along with other protected characteristics.
For one PA position, as well as listing job specification, they also list bra size specifications – B-C cup in case you were wondering – and hair colour (brown). There’s no special provision in the Act to specify gender for a PA role, let alone such physical attributes.
In a minority of professions, gender can be specified in a job advert, such as prison guards. But for most job adverts, keep them open, keep them legal and you’ll have a great chance of ending up with the best candidate.
Latest thinking on dress code 
The old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” is one that’s often overlooked when it comes to recruitment. All kinds of signals can mean that employers disregard candidates on a first impression, before properly exploring their ability.
Under the Equality Act 2010 this can of course be illegal, if a prejudice is based upon one of nine protected characteristics such as gender or age. But what about cases where it’s not illegal to dismiss an applicant, even if they are the best for the job? Take visible tattoos for example. Research suggests one third of young people (16-45) now sport a tattoo. Are dress codes that prohibit ‘body art’ ruling out too many talented people from jobs, to the detriment of the business as well as the applicant?
Independent research commissioned by ACAS revealed the extent of tattooing among the young. It also found that in the public sector there was concern about the perceived level of professionalism of those with visible tattoos, whilst in the private sector there was worry that visible tattoos would put off potential customers or clients.
While these are certainly real world concerns to be considered, they should be weighed up against the opportunity cost of missing out on a fantastic employee because of what might be an arbitrary factor. Here are some tips for formulating a dress code, which, of course, can include tattoos, piercings, hair styles and adornments:
  • Start by thinking through every aspect of it to ensure a clear rationale.
  • Look beyond your own preferences, and consider the overall good of the business.
  • Check it against the Equality Act 2010 to ensure it doesn’t illegally discriminate!
  • Consider relaxing your dress code in summer, if appropriate.
  • Why not consult with employees to ensure they are comfortable with it too? It’ll help with employee engagement and contribute to a great workplace culture.
It’s clear that the humble dress code can have a big impact on recruitment, culture and even the success of an organisation. For help getting yours right, call The HR Dept, which can also provide a full recruitment service.


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Ian heads up the HR Dept Edinburgh & the Lothians team. The HR Dept specialises in helping SMEs with everything to with employment, through a local and personal service delivering practical and pragmatic advice and support. With nearly 30 years HR experience, Ian has a wealth of experience in helping businesses to ensure success through their people, be legally compliant and handle tricky people issues. As a business owner himself, Ian understands the challenges that come with running and growing a business. He is known for his ability to explain complex concepts simply and to make learning fun and enjoyable.