In the modern workplace there is more and more importance placed on valuing diversity and inclusion for workers. In fact, there are discrimination laws in place in both New Zealand and Australia that are set to guarantee employees equal rights and a workplace environment free from all sectors of discrimination.
When applying these policies to uniforms, however, companies often struggle to find that balance between what is practical and professional, and what is inclusive of all of the individuals that make up their teams. After all, uniforms are inherently just that, 'uniform'. Their very essence is to remain the same in all cases and at all times be unchanging in form or character.
So, as an employer how should you remain sensitive to race, culture, body type, gender, religion and plain and simple 'preference' when you're designing and implementing your new uniform?
Here's what we recommend you consider.
How to Create a Uniform for a Diverse Workplace
The first thing to remember as an employer is to be considerate of the very basic human need to feel comfortable and express individuality. Wearing an outfit that fits well, expresses who you are as an individual and makes you feel confident will have a number of positive effects in the workplace.
In fact according to Fast Company, organizations with above-average diversity and levels of employee engagement outperform companies with below-average diversity and engagement by 46% to 58%. If that's not a good enough incentive to roll out an inclusive uniform policy, we don't know what is!
Of course, it's important to acknowledge that not all businesses have the resources allocated to designing a uniform that encourages comfortable individuality, but also fulfils the staple needs of a uniform; to be professional, functional and promote a brand.
The key here, is design thinking and forward planning.
If you think inclusively from the very beginning of your uniform design project, and research the age, size and design needs of your staff members through asking the right questions and surveying your workplace to help determine the types of garments you'll need, you'll already be on the front-foot.
This process includes researching the latest size and measurements in garments, as over the years (due to diet, lifestyle, ethnic diversity etc.) the generic measurements have changed. Your uniform provider should be able to help you with this through recommendations from their experience.
Finally, you'll need to source a uniform supplier who is able to provide forward planning, research, talented designers, flexible sourcing, and a well-structured supply chain process. This will allow you the best range of options, at the lowest price point.
When it comes to inclusive uniform design, a bit of forward planning goes a long way.
Diversity to Consider when Designing a Uniform
Once you've surveyed your workplace and sourced a uniform supplier who meets your requirements and is willing to work with you to design your dream diverse uniform it's important to make sure that you're ticking all of the boxes.
Here's what we'd recommend cross-referencing your uniform design against.
Gender Inclusive Uniform
The modern workplace is gender inclusive and shouldn't attempt to assume that individuals should fit within their gender-normative clothing confines. Put simply, women shouldn't have to wear skirts, and men shouldn't have to wear trousers. On top of that, gender is no longer binary, and your uniform policy should be inclusive of transgender and gender-neutral individuals.
Make sure your uniform is either unisex and can be worn by all, or that your uniform policy allows individuals to select which garments they'd prefer to wear.
Religion Inclusive Uniform
It's important to be considerate of the cultural norms in the country of which your business operates as well as the individual requirements of employees who are religious. For example, a hijab or other head covering might be relevant to some employees, or even a uniform that covers the majority of skin. If you're unable to incorporate this into your policy due to budget, make sure to explicitly state in your uniform policy that this level of individuality is supported and that staff are more than welcome to wear their own religious garments.
Culturally Inclusive Uniform
In many cases, a uniform that incorporates the essence of culture into its design is key to a successful roll out with high employee buy in. A great example of this executed well is the Air New Zealand uniform that you may have already seen.
Air New Zealand is a brand that represents Kiwis, and a huge part of the culture is Te Reo and Maori insignia. Therefore, it was key that their uniform incorporated this into their design (note the koru and silver fern design). You'll also notice that the uniform is a very memorable pink, which both men and women are expected to wear - now that's inclusive!
Size Inclusive Uniform
Contrary to popular belief, one size does not fit all. People come in all shapes and sizes, and it's unfair to assume that a uniform designed with stiff, tight-fitting material is going to be comfortable for all staff. Make sure to consider this in your design, and always have a plus-sized option ready to go.
Further Advice on Uniform Diversity
Our two biggest takeaways here are:
- Always ask, don't assume. Your staff know who they are and what they need, so make sure to check in with them.
- Partner with a uniform provider that values design for diversity. Here at Arrow, that's a huge priority for us. Just check out our case study with Ryman Healthcare for evidence of this.
If you're interested in finding out more about how you can incorporate diversity into your uniform design, we'd be more than happy to help. Get in touch below and we'll talk you through your options!