Beards In The Workplace

    The question of whether a beard is acceptable in the workplace has always been debatable, we take a look at how a beard might affect your career aspirations.

    When Zendaya Coleman wore dreadlocks to the Oscars this year, Fashion Police presenters were said to have been reminded of “patchouli”. In the ensuing media storm, in which Coleman called out the show for its racism, two hosts resigned and the show was taken off air until September (as far as I can tell they’re having a similar crisis to the one at Top Gear. It’ll be interesting to compare resolutions). The entire event brought back a long-term debate in women’s fashion: ethnic hair and self-expression versus conforming to Western social ideals.

    Bearded gentlemen can face a similar dilemma. ‘Professional’ jobs (doctors, the law, teaching, working with the public) have traditionally required employees to be clean-shaven with no discernible tattoos, piercings or anything that could be construed as a symbol of rebellion, sloppiness or a reluctance to conform to workspace targets. Plus your Mohawk might scare away customers.

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    At least, that’s how it was until the mid-to-late 2000s. Beards, tattoos and piercings have become increasingly popular with people from all walks of life, and the world hasn’t ended. Newsnight presenter Evan Davis has several tattoos, for example, and the Daily Mail nearly exploded last year when they got tell everyone about them. Weirdly, they have not impeded Davis’ abilities as a presenter. One of my psychology teachers in senior school wore dreadlocks and plugs, but her classes were popular and her students’ grades consistently high so no one cared. Or no one who cared had a leg to stand on if they disapproved, anyway.

    Male grooming products have increased in sales over the last few years and a lot of men take such obvious pride in their appearance that bearded or not they project an air of professionalism – just like professional women who happen to have afro hair. These days, lots of gentlemen who decide to grow beards already work in professional industries and are unlikely to be fired over them (bearded men might be refused work unless they conform to a company’s rules, but beards are often an expression of religion so employers can be reluctant to discriminate). Plus since the advent of Movember, employers have come to expect moustached gentleman – and they know that if they tried to prohibit them they’d get in as much trouble as Fashion Police.

    Photograph courtesy of Movember
    Photograph courtesy of Movember

    Ultimately, a man wearing a week-old t-shirt who turns up to an interview having done no preparation will not be well received, no matter how neatly-trimmed his neck hair is. A well-mannered gentleman who: dresses in sharp suits, carries well-researched notes and sports a beard and ponytail will get the job over gross t-shirt guy (even if the person conducting the interview thinks beards are repulsive). If the employer is too short sighted to see past the beard, they’re less smart than the bosses at Newsnight (no mean feat). If you need a job so desperately that the employer’s requirement is to be clean shaven, it seems like a worthy sacrifice, go grab a razor!

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