A Case for Moving From Tolerance Tovaluing Diversity

AuthorHindy Lauer Schachter
Date01 April 1993
Published date01 April 1993
Subject MatterArticles
What are the administrative implications of public agency dress codes that have the
effect of barring an employee from maintaining a personal appearance mandated by
his or her religion? The conflict is generally presented as one between the right of a
public organization to promote uniformity or religious neutrality versus the
employee’s right to religious free exercise, with the agency asserting that it
maximizes its own
goals by prohibiting religiously mandated clothing. The
argument of this article is that the issue should be reconceptualized as one centering
workforce diversity.
The Issue of Religiously Distinctive
Dress and Appearance
Hindy Lauer Schachter
escalated into court cases in fed-
managerial implications of public
eral, state and local settings-in-
agency dress codes that have the
cluding the military, police and
effect of barring an employee from
fire, education and the judicial
maintaining a personal appear-
system. (For a legal analysis of
ance mandated by his or her reli-
of these cases see Carpenter,
gion. Absent specific state or
agency dress regulations, public-
Religiously-mandated ap-
sector employees can wear reli-
pearance is one concern where
giously distinctive clothing (such
courts balance the first amend-
as a nun’s habit) in governmental
ment rights of public employees
functions (See Hysong v. Gallitzin
against an agency’s need for effi-
Borough School District, 1894 or
cient operations. (For other issues
Rawlings v. Butler, 1956). Restric-
of this type see Rosenbloom, 1983
tive codes exist in many jurisdic-
and Hayford, 1985.) The debate is
tions, however, and they have en-
presented as one between the right
gendered many conflicts that have
of a public organization to pro-

The stakeholders in dress disputes are
not limited to the agency personnel
directly involved; they include
the entire political community
mote uniformity or religious neu-
ply a question of toleration (im-
trality versus the employee’s right
portant as that may
be). The ques-
to free exercise of his or her reli-
tion should be viewed as a key
gion. This style of presentation
human resource management is-
allows the agency to claim that it
sue that speaks directly to the ex-
maximizes its own goals by pro-
tent to which political leaders and
hibiting employees from wearing
agency executives prize workforce
religiously-mandated garb.
diversity. The stakeholders in
The public administration
dress disputes are not limited to
literature has not paid much at-
the agency personnel directly in-
tention to the managerial implica-
volved ; they include the entire
tions of this conflict. In one of the
political community.
few articles on the subject, Bow-
People wear distinctive
and Hooper (1991) accept the
clothing for many reasons. The
issue as involving a tradeoff be-
issue of allowing religously-man-
tween an organization’s tolerat-
dated dress is part of the question
ing minority behavior and increas-
of whether public employees
ing its own output. They urge
should be able to wear any cloth-
considerable tolerance in dress
ing that does not interfere with
codes, but also suggest that a Sikh
getting a job done (e.g., does not
might try to get a dispensation
produce a safety hazard or depart
from wearing a turban in order to
from universally recognized pro-
avoid confrontation. Their pre-
fessional standards such as clean-
sentation does not emphasize that
liness). This article concentrates
the agency itself might have some-
on increasing latitude for reli-
thing to gain from employing tur-
giously mandated clothing be-
baned Sikhs.
cause current bans on such attire
The argument of this article
have the effect of excluding mem-
is that public managers should
bers of minority religions from
take a broader orientation to reli-
certain branches of the public ser-
gious appearance issues and
vice. This indirect outcome of
should not see allowing reli-
dress codes may be managerially
giously-mandated dress as sim-
problematic when those agencies

are supposed to serve the entire
safety), a concern that would not
community without favoring or
appear to effect diverse racial or
disfavoring any particular reli-
gender employment. Thus, the
gious group.
question of making it easier for
Representativeness of fed-
people from minority religions to
eral, state and local agency em-
work in public agencies is always
ployees is an important concern in
a question of degree; even those
the public personnel literature,
who argue for much more lati-
with many articles being devoted
tude than the current situation
to analyzing participation by race
allows might still say that some
and gender (e.g., Kellough, 1990;
restrictions may have to remain.
Hays and Kearney, 1992). Propo-
Second, religious questions
nents argue that a representative
can involve agencies in unique
workforce communicates an im-
constitutional difficulties. The
portant impression of social fair-
amendment both prohibits the
in public institutions and pro-
government from interfering with
vides role models for minority
an individual’s free exercise of
group members (e.g., Wise, 1990).
religion and from making laws
In addition, some analysts believe
that establish a given faith. Some
that a link exists between the so-
agency actions that might be both
cial origins of bureaucratic per-
legal and laudable for increasing
sonnel and an organization’s abil-
racial or gender participation
ity to respond to the needs of vari-
might place the organization in
social groups. (For early state-
violation of the establishment
of this position see Kingsley,
clause if used to promote religious
1944 and Van
Riper, 1958.) Skogan’s
diversity. A state could not pro-
(1976) work on police departments
mulgate goals for religious repre-
shows that racial representative-
sentativeness as it does for racial
ness can increase certain types of
or gender participation. Yet it is
efficiency (e.g., the generation of
wrong to suggest that this means
arrests for serious crimes).
the government is prohibited from
The issue of religious repre-
doing anything to promote reli-
sentativeness is not paramount in
gious diversity among its employ-
the literature perhaps because this
In 1963 Mr. Justice Stewart
concern differs in two significant
noted that &dquo;the guarantee of reli-
ways from participation by race
gious liberty embodied in the Free
and gender. First, current ques-
Exercise Clause affirmatively re-
tions of religious diversity involve
quires government to create an
the treatment of behavior (e.g.,
atmosphere of hospitality and
wearing distinctive dress, refus-
accomodation&dquo; (Sherbert v. Verner:
ing to work on the Sabbath) rather
398-399). Agencies that accept
than ascriptive status. Creating
this mandate are already engaged
employment conditions that al-
in a course of action that could
low diverse behavior involves set-
have the affect of increasing em-
ting some limits (e.g., based on
ployee diversity.

Dress codes diminish this
ees divide into &dquo;career primary&dquo;
atmosphere of hospitality if they
and &dquo;career-and-family&dquo; tracks.
restrict public-sector workforce
Regardless of whether these par-
participation of people from mi-
ticular differences are widespread,
nority religions. The de facto ex-
it makes sense to assume that
clusion of these people gives an
employees coming from many
impression of social inequity and
continents and from multiple in-
makes it more difficult for affected
digenous groups will bring new
organizations to serve the entire
behavior styles with them.
community responsively. Codes
The public service equity is-
prohibiting religiously mandated
sue of the 1990s will be how
dress are not really value neutral,
cies react to behavioral diversity
but rather constitute a way of en-
in a multicultural workforce. To
forcing majority denominations’
commentators increased di-
versity means that organizations
It is widely appreciated that
will face a problem in acculturat-
the American population and its
ing employees (e.g., Brimelow,
workforce are changing. By the
1992.) But scholars increasingly
year 2000, both public and private
suggest that employing personnel
organizations will have more ra-
with ascriptive and behavioral
diversity represents an opportu-
heterogenity and more workers
nity to capitalize on the advan-
from immigrant backgrounds than
tages of a multicultural work force.
currently exists, with immigration
Harris and Moran (1987) argue
in major numbers coming particu-
that cultural differences within an
larly from Asia and Latin America.
organization can be assets rather
The Hudson Institute (1987) and
than handicaps. An agency that
Fullerton (1989) offer a scenario
respects the uniqueness of its mi-
featuring relatively rapid, intense
nority cultures will find that mem-
change. Mishel and Teizeria (1991)
bers of traditionally under-repre-
argue that a slower pace of change
sented groups can bring new ways
is likely to occur, but their sce-
of looking at problems that in-
nario still introduces much
the organization’s ability to
heterogeneity than organizations
deal creatively with its environ-

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