As a high school chemistry and AP chemistry teacher I teach these safety concepts. However I know from the expressions I see that many of my students believe I am just being old and cranky. I would like to print off your email and circulate it to my students so they could see for themselves the workplace expectations for attire.
I work for a company that accepts college students as paid summer interns and also as 6-month term Co-Ops. The students we accept are majors in Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Biology. They are sophomore and junior level students.
We are having problems with the attire of many of the young ladies who come to us. The young men have so far not presented any problems. The problems are these:
1. The student has accepted an internship or Co-Op with us that involves working in chemistry laboratory. I am sure they have all taken a college level chemistry class, probably several. Yet they show up on the first day with cloth sneakers, sandals, leggings that expose half their bare leg, etc. When told that this is not proper lab attire, they are confused and reply that they have nothing of the sort we consider proper. We require pants (or a skirt ) that covers the entire leg and a shoe that covers their entire foot and is leather or fake leather. We even buy them an appropriate shoe, they just have to have something that will get them by for the 5 or 6 days it takes for the company-provided shoe to come in. It is sometimes a real struggle - they don't have a shoe that will get them by, they have absolutely no appropriate pants (or so they say), when the ordered shoe comes in they for some reason "forget" to wear it into the lab, I could go on and on.
2. Attire that is simply not appropriate for the business environment. Very short skirts, overly sheer tops, crop tops that expose the belly, extremely high heels, etc. A Human Resources colleague of mine describes it as "hooker attire". Maybe a little exaggerated, but you get the idea. Our company has on at least one occasion sent an intern home to change clothing, and there are many other instances where we SHOULD have sent someone home.
These young ladies are majoring in a hard subjects and get good grades or we would not accept them as interns or Co-Ops. I do not think they realize how bad they make themselves look when employers have to speak with them about their attire. I also think they do not realize how hard previous generations of women have fought for women to be taken seriously in the workplace. Their dress does not advance that cause.
I am going to suggest that my company send out information to potential interns on dress requirements especially for chemical laboratories. Academic institutions can certainly help provide guidance on this too. I think parents used to do this, but I believe that is over.
Thank you for listening. Yes, I am old and growing increasingly grumpy. And I wear slip-resistant shoes that cover my entire foot and look rather dorky because I choose to work in a chemistry laboratory.
Pat Peifer, CCHO
Safety and Chemical Hygiene Specialist
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