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From heels to sneakers

In recent years, we’ve seen a shift towards more comfortable, practical clothing and footwear choices for women, including the significant example of sneakers as a versatile and fashionable workwear option.

According to a report by Research and Markets, the Australian sneaker market is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 6.2% from 2018 to 2023.

This shift to having a more relaxed dress code in the workplace is not only stylish and more comfortable, but it also has a positive impact on our mental health. Here’s how:

Promotes Equality and Inclusion

Enforcing traditional dress codes can contribute to the perception of a homogenous workplace, which can lead to feelings of exclusion and isolation for individuals who want to express their unique personalities and cultures. When people do not have to wear clothing that is linked to gender stereotypes, such as high heels for women and suits for men, it promotes a sense of individuality and self-expression, which can lead to increased confidence and self-esteem. It also helps non-binary people to wear what’s right for them without stigma.

Less Judgement

Heidi Dening presenting on stage in sneakers

Heidi is a proud ‘Speaker in Sneakers’.

For many people, wearing formal and uncomfortable clothing can be a source of stress and anxiety, leading to a decreased sense of wellbeing and job satisfaction. When we believe we are being judged by how we look rather than how much value we can bring to our workplaces, this chips away at our self-confidence.

As a professional keynote speaker, I want to be judged by my presenting skills, unique content, and ability to transform people, not by my ability to prance around in uncomfortable heels. By wearing sneakers on stage, I can level the playing field and demonstrate that my value is not tied to my footwear choices. By allowing individuals to wear comfortable and functional clothing like sneakers, it can reduce stress and improve their mental health.

Reduces Financial Stress 

Dressing formally for work can be expensive, especially for those who are starting their careers or work in industries that require expensive clothing like suits and high heels. With the rising cost of living in Australia, it can create barriers to entry for those who cannot afford to dress a certain way. By relaxing dress codes, employees can prioritise where their money is spent rather than being expected to spend their hard-earned income on clothing and accessories that they really can’t afford. Financial struggles are a leading cause of mental ill-health issues and what we wear does not change our ability to be great leaders or employees.

Encourages Healthy Body Image 

Traditional dress codes are often best suited to people with a certain body type or shape, which can lead to body shaming and negative self-image for those who do not fit into those standards. By promoting comfortable and functional clothing options like sneakers, individuals are encouraged to focus more on their performance and contributions, rather than their physical appearance. This can lead to improved body image, self-esteem, and mental health.

Improves Movement

Wearing more comfortable clothing such as sneakers rather than high heels, means we are more likely to get up and move around the office more often, we are more likely to walk to client meetings and we are more likely to go outside at lunch to a park. All this extra movement can help combat the negative effects of a sedentary work environment. As science tells us, moving more helps to improve mood, reduce stress levels, increase energy levels and positively impact our mental health.

While it is understandable that each industry and workplace may have specific requirements for appropriate and safe attire, it is important to ensure that these dress codes do not come at the cost of an employee’s mental well-being.

By encouraging individuality, promoting healthy body image, reducing financial stress, and improving movement, we can create a more comfortable, equitable, and supportive workplace environment for everyone.

This article originally appeared on Women’s Agender – From heels to sneakers: Why gender-neutral dress codes are the future of work. For every media appearance, Heidi donates a day of digital training to an indigenous community.

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