NOTE: This story was originally published in July 2019. It has been updated with new information and re-surfaced.

The STEM sector as a whole appears to be taking steps towards promoting diversity, through several initiatives aimed at attracting LGBTQ, (white) women, and people of colour. But progress can be a long and bumpy road, with many people pointing out on social media that “diversity” isn’t enough: It needs to be part of a package deal with “inclusion.”

Dress codes, in school and at work, have been continually flagged as having sexist and racist undertones.

“I definitely think women have to go through more hoops to dress professionally,” Brittany Bronson, owner of Rebrand Career Consulting, told PhillyMag in 2019.

“It’s getting warmer. We might want to wear a dress, but we have to think, how does it fit in several places? How does it fit my waist? How does it fit my hips? Is it going to rise when I sit down?”

And for centuries, many schools and professional spaces in the U.S. have been allowed to discriminate against Black people based on their natural hairstyles. California became the first U.S. state to ban natural hair discrimination on January 1, 2020, with several states and municipalities following suit — but in some places, the practice remains.

Workplaces can also discriminate against an employee if they have visible tattoos and piercings, although some employers may provide limited leeway if the markings are related to an ethnic, religious, or tribal custom.

That’s despite the fact that in 2019, an estimated 30 per cent of Americans had at least one tattoo, an increase from 21 per cent in 2012.

But employers can make some discriminatory decisions based on visible religious symbols. Sikh groups, for example, have had to fight for the right to wear turbans at work.

Appearance aside, workers can also sometimes be told to dull their personalities. Some refer to this practice as “code-switching,” defined by Britannica as “the process of shifting from one linguistic code (a language or dialect) to another, depending on the social context or conversational setting.”

While some workplaces require certain dress codes for branding or safety purposes, many offices do not. And in professional spaces with ambiguous dress codes, employees are at risk of becoming targets for discrimination.


Last summer, Hannah McCann, a lecturer in cultural studies at the University of Melbourne in Australia, and Leah Richier, the Digital Humanities Research Fellow for the Center for Virtual History, sparked a viral discussion about the policing of women’s professional dress codes.

McCann posted a satirical thread telling young women how to dress to “get ahead” .

Suggestions included: a banana hat, a trash bag, or a horse demon costume.

“I wrote the thread in a fit of annoyance after seeing one too many tweets about what women in academia should and shouldn’t wear,” McCann told Huffpost UK in 2019.

“It’s something academic women think about a lot, because the profession is very gendered – the ‘intellectual’ is coded as male.”

Richier shared a similar sentiment.

“I recently read a thread about young women in academia [and] what they should wear to be professional,” reads an excerpt from her Tweet.

“My advice: Don’t dull your shine for ANYONE.”


Arielle Gray, a self-described “Queer, Black, Freelance writer/ graphic artist,” started her own important discussion about inclusion in another Twitter thread.

“Tip: if the POC [people of colour] in the room are huddled together and/ or talking predominantly among themselves, chances are they don’t feel comfortable and feel pressure to perform/ exhibit certain behaviors deemed as acceptable to the other folks in the room,” she said.

“I’ve seen/ experienced this lots in spaces that are meant to be “inclusive.” All you have to do is look around at the POC in the room- the code switching and uncomfortable/ awkward convos are a dead giveaway.”

The post, which was ‘liked’ more than 760 times, generated a positive discussion, with many people asking how they could help their POC colleagues feel welcome.

These types of conversations are important — especially as businesses and academic insitutions update and revise their diversity and inclusion initiatives in the wake of the recent Black Lives Matter protests.

A lot of work needs to be done to promote both diversity and inclusion. Respectful dialogue and awareness of the subtle and overt ways minorities are discriminated against is an actionable starting point.