Thoughts about hr and management in the real world – extra information I couldn't fit in my books!.

Are Emma Watson’s boobs hidden in your HR policies?

You may have seen the furore on social media about Emma Watson’s photo for Vanity Fair where she is a wearing a knitted poncho which covers only a small amount of her breasts. After this photo came out, people ripped into Emma on social media saying that she couldn’t be a feminist if she got her boobs out. That she wanted to be taken seriously but then showed her boobs. That her work around the gender wage gap, her #heforshe campaign and her work as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador were all invalid because she showed her breasts.

In an interview with Reuters, Emma Watson said: “It just always reveals to me how many misconceptions and what a misunderstanding there is about what feminism is,” she said. “Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality. I really don’t know what my t—s have to do with it.”

Of course the negative comments got a lot of publicity, but not in the way perhaps the people making them wanted (more about that in a moment).

What I realised is that many of our HR policies take this negative approach too. They focus on that you can’t be late for work, that you can’t breach this or that policy or that you can’t act in a particular way.

I think this gets the same type of reaction from our managers and employees. The HR policy manual gets publicity and is talked about in our businesses, but often because it’s such a boring, negative document.

In actual fact, the negative comments about Emma Watson then sparked a discussion about what feminism actually is – about women having a choice in whether they get their breasts out or not! – which was the opposite of what the haters wanted. But I don’t think our HR policies spark this same debate.

So maybe it’s time that we turn our HR policies around? Maybe instead of the negative attack policies that basically say that companies don’t trust their staff, it becomes about what we expect to see instead. What a great employee in our company is and how they behave. What they should do, rather than what they can’t do.

For an attendance policy – rather than listing that people can’t be late and that repeated lateness will be a disciplinary issues – have a policy that says ‘We trust that people will get to work on time (give or take a few minutes) and will discuss with their managers if they’re not going to be able to or if they need flexible start and finish times’. And then only if this becomes an issue do you make this more specific and discuss consequences. Not up front before they’ve even been late once.

For the good old Dress Code policy – rather than trying to list everything that someone can’t wear – have a policy that says “We dress professionally when we have clients or work meetings, otherwise just dress comfortably in business casual”. Or “Our dress code is to dress professionally except for casual days when you can wear anything within reason!”.

I’d love to hear from companies who have tried this approach and made their policies about the positive, rather than can’t, can’t, can’t! And if you are in the negative camp – perhaps it’s time for a policy rewrite.


Angela Atkins is a best-selling author and business entrepreneur who has a passion for providing development and training for HR and people managers through the Management Bites programme and through both Elephant New Zealand and Elephant Group UK.

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This entry was posted on March 12, 2017 by in culture, human resources.
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