The complex issue of religious and cultural dress in the workplace cannot be solved by blanket rules or policies. So what should HR do?
Tony Abbott finds burqas “confronting”, while his chief of staff Peta Credlin reportedly supports them being banned from Parliament House.
But “society has a responsibility to adapt and embrace”, said international HR Director Laurie Hibbs, who said that workplaces who foster diversity and inclusion will be all the better for it.
“The burqa issue is topical, but it's not unique from Sikhs in uniformed professions, or women in combat roles. Society has a responsibility to adapt and embrace and workplaces are better for it,” said Hibbs, who has recently moved back to Australia after seven years working in banking, publishing and FMCG in London, to co-found Not Just Another Consultancy with partner Celeste Halliday.
“To me, this is a complex issue, but not one that can be solved by blanket rules or policies. The temptation is always to legislate or create policy on cultural dissonance when in fact, you should resolve each issue individually and with tolerance.”
If an employee wishes to wear cultural clothing in the workplace, it’s important to liaise with that staff member on an individual basis, Hibbs said, being careful to ask how – and indeed, if – they would feel comfortable sharing their views.
“I would offer the same option to any employee who felt uncomfortable, and try and engender a dialogue,” he said.
“Many individual differences can be minimised by simply sharing experience and gaining understanding, if not agreement.”
While anything that “creates danger for others or is illegal cannot be embraced”, Hibbs said that every human has the right to dress in a manner that is appropriate to their beliefs and social norms.
“Any business in pursuit of diversity and better understanding of customers, should encourage and create an environment where variety is accepted, understood and encouraged,” he added.