Caribbean “Professional”

Written by: VANESTA MURPHY

 

We live on small tropical islands, it’s mostly sweltering (sometimes I get cold, but that’s a whole nother post), and yet we still strive to follow rules set by colonial masters who have no doubt either relaxed or thrown out these very same rules in the countries they now live in.

I know there are those dainty types who walk among us – women who simply “glisten” or get “dewy”. Listen to me (or at least squint your eyes, so it looks like you’re concentrating): I am not one of them. I sweat – like I have to wear a vest under my light-coloured shirt to absorb some of the sweat, kind of sweat. You know when you see someone with see-through wet patches in their white shirt or dark splotches on their light-coloured shirt? That’s me. It ain’t cute, it ain’t pretty, but it’s my reality.

So please – explain to me why, oh why, do I need to wear SLEEVES  and/or a JACKET  in order to look “professional”? I’m pretty sure looking like I just ran a marathon because I’m having a mini rainstorm in my jacket/sleeves is far less professional-looking than being presentably dry as a cool cucumber in a tailored shift dress. Believe me, as hard as it may be to fathom, I can look very professional without sleeves or a jacket. We already have to deal with the nonsense that dreads/natural hair aren’t perceived as “professional” – what’s next? Should I wear the British lawyer wig and gown?

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Let’s have story time. So, you’re working at this place. You’re in a windowless office with other people and no one sees you. One day, Boss pokes head in and gives you the once over but says nothing. You’re just sitting at your desk with your jacket off… I know, shock-horror, your offensive shoulders were on display, no doubt enticing colleagues and smoking ’round the back of the bike shed. You think no more of it and go about your day. Maybe two days later, you are once again caught sleeveless. Sure, you had a jacket that you wore to work, but took it off at your desk once you got to the office. You had to run upstairs (inside the building), and when you got back to the door of the office, you ran into a person from HR who informed you that Boss asked that you be told not to walk in the halls sleeveless (kinda like the hall monitors in Jr. HS). Oh… shame on you. You tell HR that their job is done, and continue along offending coworkers with your shoulders all the way back to your office. Somehow the space time continuum wasn’t messed up, time didn’t stop, and the world as we know it didn’t actually implode. Go figure.

Fair enough, they have their dress code, and in the public, I understand that as an employee, I represent the company. Therefore, I will adhere, even while I’m walking in the sweltering heat to some work thing. But if I’m in the building, hiding from the eyes of customers who might become titillated or somehow offended by my inappropriate shoulders, can we just be reasonable? I think it’s perfectly ok to be sleeveless… until the A/C kicks in.

Some rules require reassessment. How on earth can we get out of this old way of doing things? The industry I’m in requires me to walk to assignments sometimes because the driver isn’t exclusively for my department, and I sometimes can’t be bothered to wait when walking will get me there faster. So walking… in the Caribbean… in a jacket.

I recently attended a workshop on “professionalism”. You can see where I’m going with this already, can’t you? The feature presenter was a “professional” woman, a “professional” woman who trains other women for specific positions in the workforce. I wrote down some pearls of wisdom lest I forget and never amount to the level of “professionalism” that I aspire to. (Though what I wrote down – I don’t aspire to that… just to be clear.)

We were told to always ensure that our hair was never covering our ears, because it conveys a message of not hearing the whole conversation (I’m paraphrasing), especially the women who wear “false hair” (that’s weave and braids, in case you didn’t know). We were also told that sometimes women don’t get feedback after an interview because… get this: they didn’t opt to wear heels. Yes ladies, if you’ve never been called back after an interview, chances are, you decided to make the grave error that is wearing flats to an interview… because: 1950.

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So not only do we have the remnant colonial BS to deal with, we also have the people training women wanting to enter the workforce reading from a manual that was written in a parallel universe from a bygone era. Interesting. Thanks.

I have re-heeled my shoes twice since April. This is an island in the West Indies; you know what we have here? Cobblestone streets, that’s what. Cobblestones, cobblestones, and more cobblestones, complete with cracks in between. Tell me, is this trainer person going to pay to re-heel my shoes? I get the feeling she sits in an office most of the time. Nope, lady. If I’m not going to get a job because I wasn’t in heels, then perhaps it’s not the job for me.

Seriously – so you’re telling me that when faced with a woman with excellent credentials, who interviews well, and seems to be a perfect personality fit for an organization, all of a sudden, the hiring manager is going to stop progress: “Wait, just a minute – you wore flats to your interview?! How unprofessional… I sure wish we could hire you, but after this…”

If y’all are so hung up on shoes, hire a pair of mine, and let me know how great a job they do. While you’re checking their progress, I hope you never have to tell them to pull their hair back in a bun lest you can see their ears so you know they are, in fact, listening when you speak, and to put a jacket on as not to titillate their co-workers with their brazen shoulders.

Anyway, “Unprofessional” Me and my fats, shoulders, and covered ears are off to work.

Here’s hoping the sky doesn’t come crashing down, because I don’t actually know Chicken Little, so there’ll be no warning.

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Vanesta

About Vanesta

Vanesta is a typical beach loving, volcano climbing, hammock swaying, book reading, rum drinking, food cooking island girl. Rumor has it that she sometimes plants things in her backyard… legal things (not Colorado-legal, but everywhere else legal. She says she’s not against the Colorado legal though…). Rasta child, non-meat eater (she does like fish), lover of reggae, praise to the Most High.

She hails from the multi-island state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. She says you should look it up; it’s lovely, though she might be biased. She’s traveled, though not everywhere on her list, and she’s gone to school on two continents (not condiments, but she is partial to ketchup). She’s all Ashtanga with her chaturanga and sun salutations. She used to stress out, now she does her breathing exercises and tries not to throat punch anyone, because she is a delicate flower and not cut out to be someone’s jail wife. She’s an animal lover, but not fond of the two-legged strays that she seems to attract.

She’s a little island girl (ok, not little. She could drop 15lbs if she didn’t love cake and hate exercise. Plus, she has been around since the 80s began…) who loves her life in her little island world (though she does sometimes dislike the small island politics).

CURRENT ROCK OF RESIDENCE: St. Vincent and the Grenadines

ISLAND GIRL SINCE: Birth.

ORIGINALLY HAILS FROM: St. Vincent and the Grenadines

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15 thoughts on “Caribbean “Professional”

  1. Ha ha. This is hilarious, and from what I have observed, true. On the little island of San Salvador, Bahamas, I had asked a friend who was an elementary teacher if she ever got hot in the stockings she always wore. We got on the subject of what the “dress code” was and what was expected of her when she was teaching class. The women are expected to wear pantyhose if they are wearing a ( modest) dress. Do the people who make these rules understand how hot pantyhose can be in 95 degree sweltering classrooms? I know some of these classrooms also had NO Ac. I’m one of those like you, that sweat. When I am hot and uncomfortable, and I look it…it makes others around me the same. Time to rethink these silly old 1950’s rules. They weren’t made with island girls in mind!

  2. So true! I was actually not allowed into a government building on my rock (Tortola) once because my oh-so-scandalous shoulders were showing. Security Guard to me to come back when I was appropriately dressed. To drop something off. In 90+ degree heat.

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