A recent study conducted by Creative Access, a leading diversity and inclusion social enterprise, has shed light on the challenges faced by job seekers, particularly those from underrepresented groups, due to a lack of clear workplace and job interview dress codes and guidance.

The research indicates that this ambiguity is causing confusion, anxiety, and a sense of disadvantage among these individuals.

According to the survey, 43 percent of the candidates polled stated that they had never received any guidance on what to wear for a job interview or when starting a new job. However, a staggering 82 percent expressed that clear guidance would be immensely helpful.

Furthermore, over half (55%) of respondents found the common dress code term ‘smart casual’ to be perplexing.

The study, which encompassed over 2,000 individuals from the UK workforce, aimed to understand the differing experiences of job interviews and workplace environments for individuals from diverse backgrounds.

One significant finding of the research was that the absence of interview dress code guidance exacerbated anxiety among various groups:

  • Black candidates: Nearly 59 percent of Black candidates expressed concerns about dressing authentically or wearing their hair naturally, fearing potential discrimination in the workplace.
  • Lower socio-economic groups: Approximately 48 percent of respondents from lower socio-economic backgrounds found it challenging to navigate what to wear or how to style their hair for interviews, compared to 36 percent from the broader workforce.
  • Ethnically diverse groups: About 27 percent of individuals from Black, Asian, and other ethnically diverse groups felt pressured to alter their hairstyle for interviews.

The importance of guidance regarding hair and clothing expectations extended to neurodivergent individuals as well:

  • Neurodivergent individuals: Over a third (37%) of neurodivergent respondents indicated that they had never received guidance on what to wear for a job interview.
  • Difficulty deciding attire: Among neurodivergent individuals, 59 percent said they would find it challenging to determine appropriate attire, citing ‘smart casual’ as confusing (58%) and concerns that being themselves would lead to discrimination (56%).

Nargis Choudhury, People Coordinator at Red Consultancy, a public relations firm, emphasised the importance of clear dress code guidance, particularly for candidates from diverse backgrounds. Choudhury noted that vague terms like ‘smart casual’ can be confusing, leading some candidates to feel out of place during interviews.

The study also uncovered concerns among individuals with Afro Textured or curly hair. More than one in ten (14%) of such individuals believed that wearing their natural hair style in the workplace would negatively impact their career. In contrast, 86 percent of those with naturally straight hair felt no need to change their hair texture for interviews, while 31 percent of individuals with Afro Textured or curly hair felt compelled to do so, and 15 percent considered covering their natural hair or wearing a wig for interviews.

Sloane Francis Grant, a 30-year-old worker from London, shared her experience, explaining how she had refrained from changing her hairstyles to avoid drawing attention. Grant highlighted the challenge of repeatedly answering questions about her hair, which, while not malicious, could become exhausting.

What about inclusivity at work events?

In addition to issues related to job interviews, the research pointed to a lack of inclusivity at formal work events. Approximately 18 percent of respondents felt that traditional ‘black tie’ events were not inclusive, with 14 percent having declined invitations to such events due to a lack of appropriate attire. This figure rose to 20 percent for Black employees and reached 31 percent for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Creative Access, the organisation behind the study, focuses on providing career access, support, and training for individuals from underrepresented groups, as well as assisting organisations in building more inclusive cultures. The organisation’s mission is to ensure that the creative industries mirror the diversity of UK society.

Bibi Hilton, CEO of Creative Access, stressed the importance of employers providing clear guidance to candidates throughout the recruitment process, including dress code expectations. Hilton expressed concerns that navigating vague or confusing dress codes, or a complete absence of dress code information, was causing unnecessary anxiety, especially among individuals from underrepresented groups, as the post-summer recruitment period gains momentum.






Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.