DEAR HARRIETTE: I work in a relatively conservative law firm in Chicago. Much to my surprise, the new administrator that my company hired a month ago came to work with her hair dyed green. I have seen this trend on kids as I walk around town, but there is no room for this look at my law firm. In the employee handbook, it doesn't specifically speak about hair color, but it does say that modest attire and overall presentation is required. How can I talk to this young woman about her hair color choice to help her? I don't know if human resources will say that she can be fired, but I can say that it is not likely that she will rise up through the ranks at my company if she decides to be a trendsetter in this avant garde kind of way. -- How to Mentor, Chicago
DEAR HOW TO MENTOR: Talk to your human resources department about the legalities of addressing this employee about her style choices. You should get guidance to make sure that you do not overstep your authority to address her hair color.
With that information in tow, speak to her as a mentor, and tell her that you want to share some supportive information with her should she be interested. What you may want to tell her is that in every industry there are spoken and unspoken standards. In the law profession, people tend to err on the side of conservative, as they do in your company. Tell her that while her hair color may be a fun trend, it may not be telling her bosses and co-workers that she is serious about working there.
There likely are law firms where more personal innovation is welcomed. She may want to think about what the best fit is for her given her style choices. That said, if she excels at her job, your company may look beyond her style eccentricities. But in these times when there are so many options for where to work, I think it is wise to select a workplace that naturally welcomes you rather than where you have to constantly fight to fit in. Just a thought.