Since taking over as the head of the Software Support Group early this year, Clem Hartford is one person short of 100% turnover. So naturally they are hiring. Since we are hiring, too, we’ve been comparing notes on applicants. One such applicant was Terry Nelson. Terry had previously worked with Martin, Simon, and Melvin at the Kimball Group. They had nothing but great things to say about his skills, experience, and competence.
There was a catch, however. Terry had a punk schtick going, involving some tattoos and piercings. The piercings could be taken out, but the tattoo was a bit more of a problem. We figured, knowing uptight Clem, that he wouldn’t pursue Terry any further. We thought it to our advantage because if they didn’t snap him up, we could.
Much to our surprise, and much to Clem’s credit, he evaluated the candidates, determined that Terry was far-and-away the most qualified candidate for the job, and began negotiations. If he would be willing to take out his piercings and wear long-sleeved shirts, he was in. Terry agreed and started the next day. By all accounts, he took to everything almost immediately and lived up to the hype. Clem and his boss Erich were both quite pleased.
That was until Don Fallon happened to see Terry. He immediately stormed in to Erich’s office and demanded that Terry be immediately fired for his “outrageous hair.” I didn’t mention Terry’s hair along with his tattoos and piercings because there was, in my mind as well as most everybody else’s (including Erich and Clem) there was absolutely nothing outrageous about it. Yes it was gelled and somewhat spikey if you looked at it closely, but it was short and conventional enough that we all had to remind ourselves what exactly his hair looked like.
Erich and Clem convinced Don to let them ask Terry if he would be willing to go without the gel. That was the last straw for Terry, who up until that point had been a very good sport. It wasn’t the hair, Terry explained, but that he had done everything they asked of him up to that point, and his first day he was yelled at by an irate company
president CEO and had his job threatened on the spot. This was not an environment in which he wanted to work.
Clem had to start sifting through resumes again. He settled on a candidate that we were also considering. Neither of us were particularly excited about the guy, but he was there, was somewhat qualified, and seemed really enthusiastic about getting a job somewhere. He wasn’t as naturally gifted as Terry, and he would take considerably longer to train, but what was important here is that he had a conservative haircut.
After this whole incident, Don, who just a couple weeks before announced that he was stepping aside in the day-to-day runnings of the company, combed the rest of the building looking for anybody and everybody else with unacceptable hair.
The next employee in his crosshairs was Melvin Giles. Melvin Giles that had taken the lead on an application within the department that has assisted in an 80% increase in productivy with little more than half the personnel. The Melvin Giles that was given a previously unheard of bonus for his contribution. The Melvin Giles that just got promoted into software development, making him the first employee in the history of our group to make that direct jump.
None of that was important. What was important is that Melvin’s hair was unacceptable.
Now I don’t actually disagree that Melvin’s hair was questionable. The issue that I might have with it is that he colored over his naturally red hair with black dye. He was inconsistent about the maintenance of it so it was sometimes an odd mixture of red and black and besides, red hair doesn’t generally dye very well in the first place. Oddly enough, the issue was not that so much as it was the length, even though he kept it pretty neatly tied back in a pony tail. Don called our HR person Carla, who called the director of software development, who had to pull Melvin into a meeting and say that his job was in jeopardy if he did not cut the same long hair he’s had at the company for the past year to above the collar, which is apparently the unspoken guideline.
The policy in the almighty employee handbook that we signed in January uses quite vague language. It bans “extreme, unprofessional or inappropriate styles of dress or hair while working” and proclaims “Hair should be clean, combed and neatly trimmed or arranged. Shaggy, unkempt hair is not permissible regardless of length. Sideburns, moustaches, and beards should be neatly trimmed. Extreme hair colors or shapes are not acceptable.”
So it all depends on one’s personal definitions, which given the givens is not a surprise that they consider just about anything that deviates from a standard business cut unacceptable. Luckily for the company, Melvin was considering cutting his hair anyway. Ironically, he cut it just above the collar on all sides. So the hair that was once neatly held back is now in on his face, with the same receding dye that he had before.
And unsurprisingly, he just stepped up his job-search a couple of notches.
That’s okay, though. In true junior high fashion, it’s not important how smart you are and what you can do. What really matters here is what you look like doing it.