The lowest common denominator – despite the image, I’m not talking fractions here! This term has come into my mind several times whilst recently working with some of my City clients.
30 years ago, there were very set dress codes. If you’d walked into pretty much any office in the City, everyone would have been dressed almost like clones. These days, there is far more variety, even in more formal environments.
Whilst there are many positives to this change, including people being able to show more personality and differentiate themselves, it does cause some other issues.
Naturally people want to fit in, but this can cause some challenges and even in some minor ways, affect careers.
Take a ‘dress down’ Friday, doing this in some roles in the City means that unless you have spare clothes with you, you can’t go to a last minute meeting. This can be career restricting, if this happens often, you are effectively saying you are only available to clients 4 days a week.
Coming back to the lowest common denominator term, it means that the most casually dressed, potentially scruffily dressed person (I say potentially as some people, not all, dress casually but don’t manage to do so in a neat, professional way) becomes abenchmark so gradually others will migrate to that too. This can be fine in a more creative sector but is not ideal in certain sectors in the City.
Think about where that could go…An experiment with litter dropping found that a street where litter was dropped and not cleared up, gained more incremental litter than the side that was kept clean. I think this principle can be seen elsewhere such as workplace dressing; hence using the term ‘lowest common denominator’ – what I really mean is the most relaxed dressing level.
Upon talking to some of my clients, some would be happy to dress less casually but fear they’d feel out of place. Therefore, although we’ve lost the uniform of the past, have we created another uniform which equally restricts people’s individuality and in some cases prevents them from attending meetings that could advance their careers?
It’s also evident that senior people are not always role modelling well so more junior people are just following them which is not helping the situation.
On the plus side, if you are willing to think more individually and defy the lowest common denominator, then it can be a great way to differentiate yourself! Yes, it might feel a bit uncomfortable at first, not being as casually dressed as others. However, it will show you to be client ready and help you to stand out versus others – it is essential to get positively noticed for career progression. It doesn’t mean you have to wear the most formal dress code either, just something in-between. That’s what I have recently been helping my City clients with.
So, when next Friday comes round, is your priority to blend in and feel comfy? Or, is it to make just a bit more effort and differentiate yourself? In certain sectors, it could well be worth that little bit of effort!
Joanna Gaudoin helps individuals and organisations improve their image and impact to help them be positively memorable to prospects and clients to influence professional success.