Listening to the weather forecast on my way to work, I pondered on the challenges the professional Muslimah faces when dressing appropriately. Whether it is finding modest clothing that suits her workplace, or finding an outfit that complies with safety requirements for risky jobs, we are often haunted by making the right dress choices that will enable us to get the job done while climbing the corporate ladder.
Thus it is not uncommon to find sisters in black-stripe suits and a matching scarf, or in long-sleeves tunics and slacks. After all, dressing modestly is part of corporate America’s dress code. The challenge arises as the temperature rises, when some women trade their professional clothing for revealing, inappropriate outfits.
When the sun shines and temperatures hit the 80’s, some career women switch their pants for mini-skirts, their button-down blouses for v-neck shirts, and their casual shoes for flip-flops.
Interestingly enough, male counterparts often maintain their business-like presence throughout the summer, and do not show up to work wearing tanks, shorts, and sandals. This is how business attire double standards are reinforced: by men continuing to uphold the dress code in the summer while their female colleagues disregard policies on appropriate workplace fashion.
A Clash of Cultures?
Women for Hire; a leading provider of career advancement services for professional women nationwide, has excellent advice on how women can dress professionally and stay cool. Their site offers classical tips on the Dos and Don’ts of proper business attire. “Avoid ultra-short skirts, low-cut necklines, super-high heels, too-tight clothes, and anything bordering on too sexy”. This is common sense to some, and dogma to others, who rather show up to work as if vacationing at Disney World or auditioning for The Bachelor.
Add to the mix the recurring publicity and lawsuit filing by Muslim women who are discriminated against in the workplace, and strict sexual harassment laws, and you’ve got yourself an everlasting recipe for frenemies. This is why when your supervisor bends down to pick up that pen and you are disgusted by her red thong showing, or when your colleague’s cleavage is all over her keyboard (and sometimes yours), Muslim women are torn between keeping silent or reporting their discomfort to HR, for fear of being accused of “jealousy”.
Female colleagues, who are not in tune with the reasons of why we dress modestly, can sometimes take offence of our covered figure when compared to their revealing one. At times, it is misinformation or ignorance that leads them to believe we secretly crave to take off our clothes and just show more.
Moreover, wearing hijab in the workplace comes with the perception by peers and superiors that our professionalism is skewed by our docility. Not only are we less likely to come across as strong leaders and managers but also less likely to appear dead-set on that promotion we’ve been striving towards. The lack of sensitivity training to address cultural differences further robs professional Muslim women from their entitled assertiveness, gained through hard work and an impeccable work ethic.
In reality, most small companies deliberate between establishing a strict dress code or having an unspoken expectation on what is and what isn’t acceptable workplace attire. It is only when dress code can negatively impact business that upper management takes the necessary actions to prevent a sexual harassment or discrimination lawsuit, or a dreaded comment from a client on the attire of the firm’s employees.
For the professional Muslimah, the struggle is never ending. Regardless of policies, colleagues, and how preconceived notions affect the perception of her job’s performance, she is first and foremost God-conscious and working to abide by Allah’s dress code for the believing woman. Whether in full hijab or not, Muslim women strive towards modesty, and their dress makes a statement about their faith and persona. In the workplace, this is particularly indispensable, as mixing of the sexes is bound to occur.
In the end, modesty gives a Muslimah the upper hand in the business world, and her character, work ethic, and performance are appreciated by their true value.
“Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”: indeed this common piece of career advice could not suit a Muslimah any better.
This article was first published on AltMuslimah.com. It is republished here with the kind permission of the author.