Open(ing) Communication: Examining Social Barriers in the Professional World
Updated: Apr 12, 2021
By David Hart, PR/Media Coordinator, Spring 2021
Attire: business casual. Requirements: previous internship. Dress code: natural hairstyles. The professional world is full of little aspects and guidelines that everyone accepts, but that does not mean that these rules are without fault. With growing public awareness of systemic issues like racism and sexism, many aspects of professionalism should be examined with a more critical eye. One form of discrimination that goes much more unnoticed is socioeconomic discrimination or classism. Classism surrounds us in the professional world, and if we don’t notice it at first glance, it’s because we are not supposed to.
When I was interviewing for my position at Inigo, I was sent a Zoom link and decided to wear a button-down collared shirt that an elementary-aged version of myself would have referred to as my “church clothes.” We are told to “dress for the job we want,” so, we pull out a suit and tie, or a sports coat and dress shoes; women may pull out a pantsuit or a nice dress. Attire descriptions like “business casual” and “semi-formal” are default for professional events but the rules that they imply may vary. These loose but crucial guidelines are problematic when approaching them from a socioeconomic lens—people who are trying to break into the professional world may not understand them or know exactly what they mean. “Does business casual mean no jeans? Or does it mean I need a tie? Is a sports coat optional? Oh no, do I need to buy a business coat for this?” Especially in the communications field, we are called to do better, to break down barriers of uncertainty and to clarify expectations.
Another way in which the professional world discriminates against social classes, perhaps without even realizing, has come about incredibly quickly due to the COVID-19 pandemic—Zoom. Offices across the globe have gone remote, meeting virtually and working from home. While public health and safety are of the utmost importance, I believe that we as budding professionals have a moral obligation to ensure that those whom we expect to work from home have the means to do so. When offices went virtual, so did schools. How is someone who has two children who need to learn and one computer for both of their schooling and for working from home supposed to function? As the professional world progresses toward a future of equity among races, gender identities and sexual orientations, we must not forget the less obvious divides among us.
One way in which I have seen the communications field improve on this issue has been the increase in paid internships over the years. Unpaid internships offer wonderful work experience; however, they are also unrealistic for anyone who does not have a financial support system in place. While this is improving in communications—more and more internships are becoming paid positions—other fields, especially research in academia, are still only offering internships and, thus, necessary work experience, in unpaid positions.
As society progresses toward true equity and a truly just future, the field of communications has the means and the obligation to be the field of leadership in equity among all demographics.