Chipped nail polish and other explosive work norms with Dorothy Dalton, Founder at 3Plus Int.

I think having chipped nail polish is no reflection on anyone’s competence

– Dorothy Dalton

It’s shocking to think that it was only in 2016 that a young woman was sent home from work because she wasn’t wearing heels. Now, with the “pajamafication” of work, a lot of norms are evolving – as they should. On this week’s episode of On Work and Revolution podcast, Debbie talks with Dorothy Dalton, an international talent management strategist, keynote speaker & coach, about the changing social norms at work and how to properly address them. This episode shares perspectives on what’s changing, what isn’t, and how to make the best decisions in your organization around work norms.

Debbie & Dorothy discuss:

✓ The disparity between senior executives who continue to work from home, yet want their people to go back into the office.
✓ What is Goal Contagion, and why it has diminishing returns on the workforce?
✓ How to measure employee engagement when 40% of the global workforce says they will leave their jobs in the next year.
✓ The chipped nail polish dilemma & how work norms are changing.

About our guest, Dorothy Dalton:

​​Dorothy is an international talent management strategist and the Founder of 3Plus International, offering strategic and operational consulting services to organizations building gender-balanced, diverse and inclusive workplaces. She has run hundreds of international executive search assignments, and interviewed, placed, coached, and trained tens of thousands of individuals in her career.

Today, with a focus on bias-managed recruitment processes to give gender balanced and diverse shortlists of talent, she works with businesses to create psychologically safe workplace cultures. This involves designing and delivering bias mitigation strategies to counteract embedded resistance to change around key issues such as non-inclusive behaviors, sexual harassment, and bullying.

She has written and co-authored handbooks for a number of major organisations reaching hundreds of thousands of employees worldwide. She is a keynote speaker, HR analyst, and certified coach (CBC and Ikigai), and trainer she has helped thousands of men and women reach their potential.   

Helpful Links:

Follow Dorothy on LinkedIn
Subscribe to Dorothy’s LinkedIn Newsletter Here
Dorothy’s Website:

Open for Full Episode Transcript

Open for Full Episode Transcript



people, office, dorothy, home, nail polish, executives, chipped, businesses, dress, client, pandemic, work, employee engagement, agree, workplace, senior leaders, working, flexibility, absolutely, hygiene


Debbie Goodman  00:05

Welcome to On Work and Revolution, where we talk about what’s shaking up in the world of work. And how we can make work life suck a little less. I mean, as you know, I’m always aiming for a slightly higher. I mean, I’m aiming for amazing workplaces but less sucky work life – we’ll go for that too! I’m your host, Debbie Goodman, and today we have as our guest, Dorothy Dalton. Dorothy is founder of 3Plus International, she’s a global advisor and consultant on the topics of DEI, future of work, and career navigation. She’s a fellow doyenne in executive search. I love that word. Doyenne, I think we can call ourselves that right? Dorothy publishes the most fabulous LinkedIn newsletter. We’ll include this in the show notes, because you should really subscribe to that. And I have just loved her commentary and insights into what’s shaking up in the somewhat chaotic world of work right now. And today, we’re chatting to Dorothy about the fascinating complexity around work norms, the many competing opinions and beliefs about what’s appropriate, what’s appropriate protocol, etiquette, what’s right, what’s acceptable, unacceptable, in a world that’s just kind of being shaken by the neck. And I’ve even had to really challenge some of my own views about what’s right. So welcome, Dorothy.


Dorothy Dalton  01:32

Great. Hi, thank you. Nice, welcome. I appreciate that.


Debbie Goodman  01:36

Let’s start with the core battle that’s being fought in the workplace all around the world, work from home, or Return to Office. And I’d love you to share with listeners your take on why it is that by and large, it seems to be mostly the senior leaders who are really insistent on wanting to head back to the office.


Dorothy Dalton  01:58

Yeah, it’s a tricky question. And it’s very polarized, as you know, and everybody has very specific ideas about what works and what doesn’t work. And the research is quite murky, I think. So it’s hard to extrapolate really helpful data. And just before we came online, I actually put something out about who’s in the office and who’s not in the office. And 35% of non-executives are back in the office compared to 19% of executives. So but wait for it, basically, executives have tend to have better facilities at home for for working at home, they have the most one of the most important things, they have greater autonomy on their work. So the non executive who the regular employee, who is being forced to go back to the office, generally goes back to their port, therefore force to just sit there and work quite often on screen, dealing with your boss, who I’ve had clients tell me might be in their second term, whether it’s in the draw drawing, or whether it’s in in Cornwall, or somewhere in the States. But basically, a lot of people are still working, doing online meetings from their offices. So that’s, that’s one thing that has really stood out for me.


Debbie Goodman  03:26

So the disparity between senior executives who’ve got the capacity, the infrastructure, the spare room, the extra home, etc, to be continuing to do conduct their work, but nevertheless, wanting their people to go back into the office.


Dorothy Dalton  03:42

Yeah, because it gives them a greater sense of control. And it was it was quite interesting, because I haven’t read it yet. But I will, over the weekend, something that called goal contagion, which I thought was really interesting


Debbie Goodman  03:57

Goal contagion. Okay, this is a new phrase explain.


Dorothy Dalton  04:01

Basically what it is, is that they feel people are better motivated, if they can see people around them all working to the same goal. So when people are dispersed, it’s much harder to buy into the common goal. So I think leaders are feeling that people are not all on the same page going the same direction. But they don’t necessarily think it’s their role to motivate them to do that. And they sometimes, in my experience, they mainly don’t have the skills,


Debbie Goodman  04:31

Right. So the idea, then about goal contagion is that by bringing people together and making them work together in person, again, their motivation levels towards working towards a common vision are going to increase, even though they might feel somewhat resentful about having to dress up schlepping to the office commute, do the thing that they wish could have been doing from home in any case. So despite that, that might like diminish the that might be a law of diminishing returns. On experience,


Dorothy Dalton  05:02

That’s exactly what’s. And so what so we have this one theory that of people are together, physically together working for a common goal, even though their bosses might not be there. What we’re seeing is a disconnect in employee engagement. So employee engagement is falling right off. In terms of lack of career opportunities, poor Sarah, the salary, lack of flexibility, all of these things. But quite often, executives have that flexibility that ordinary employees don’t have, it’s inbuilt into their jobs.


Debbie Goodman  05:34

So going back to goal contagion, and by the way, listeners, remember you heard it here first. So if you’re on trend, because of On Work and Revolution, just remember that. So we’re hearing that what I’m hearing is that managers mostly seem to believe that their staff are less productive, working from home, less motivated, less goal focused. Whereas a lot of the data that I’m reading is saying that employees, regular employees actually believe that they are more productive.


Dorothy Dalton  06:06

And that’s the disconnect. And that’s why there is so much conflicting information. And that’s why I don’t have a really fixed opinion, because I find it quite difficult to pull anything concrete. I mean, you just think of the mixed messages that I’ve said in the last like two or three minutes


Debbie Goodman  06:23

alone. Right?


Dorothy Dalton  06:27

So multiply this to all of the things going on. It’s really complex. How do they measure employee engagement, when something like 40% of the global workforce says they’ll leave their jobs in the next in the next year? That’s from McKinsey,


Debbie Goodman  06:42

I guess. It is a jumble. And I guess the mess is kind of to be expected. Essentially, the pandemic has disrupted a 250 year old system of workforce management that was instituted in 1769, when the first factory was established in like cromford. So it’s disrupted, and it’s still in the very messy phase. And I guess everybody’s still trying to make some sense out of it. And we are seeing that, that there are many groups that groups of workers that despite the fact that they are actually sometimes struggling with their work from home or remote work setup, meaning single people, Gen Z’s new workers, career moms, they have a really hard time. They’re under a lot of pressure. That was also a data that’s come out of a recent research report. Despite that, they still do want the flexibility and the opportunity to to have some time, at most more than just a little working from home and having that flexibility. I want to switch now to the multiple pressures on this return to office that’s coming from the broader ecosystem. This is not just a battle between managers and their people, senior leaders, or executives and everybody else. This is a multifaceted pressure cooker, coming from investors, property realtors, businesses in office nodes share more about about that.


Dorothy Dalton  08:11

I actually don’t think people anybody is thinking about this – everything is very much done on a macro level. I’m sorry, on a micro level, not a macro level, with just businesses making announcements quite often dialing back on what they’ve announced, you know, big, big, lots of the tech companies have said you can work from anywhere we want you back in the office. No, we can’t, you would change all of that. So a lot of people are testing to see what works. I don’t think they know. But one of the things that’s happening is that they’re not really taking into account the impact. It has, for example, on business centers, where you have all of this real estate, what’s gonna happen to that. So a lot of pressure from vested parties, if you like, is from real estate investors to get people back into into into business centers. Then you’ve got all the little businesses, a lot of those are female owned, you know, you’ve got your nail bars, you’ve got coffee shops, you’ve got cafes, you’ve got small supermarkets, you’ve got all of these things. All of this rely on people being in a physical place of work. We talked just before the call on lunch delivery services. I mean, all of those have been absolutely knocked out of the water, concierge services. None of these are working. So these businesses are being negatively impacted. So you might have the work life balance you have but what about the poor worker, who very often will be an in place worker that doesn’t have that flexibility? I


Debbie Goodman  09:42

I have to bring up the topic of the chipped nail polish dilemma. I saw on LinkedIn you posted a picture of somebody with chipped nail polish and that sparked a whole conversation about whether that was okay and appropriate people from work working from home, who, perhaps are choosing to have different styles of personal grooming these days? And the question arose about whether having chipped nail polish was important, whether it was a big deal. And the variety of commentary from that made me realize how contentious something like that would be. So I’d love your thoughts on that.


Dorothy Dalton  10:23

I think you’ll say that it was the I picked this up from another person, the person was actually in the office. You know, I think we’ve since we’ve had what’s been called the “pajamafication” of work, where we’re all at home, you know, what I call my-emotional-support-clothes, which I bought from the pandemic, that when people have to go back to the office, whether it’s hybrid, or normally that there are certain, we’ve relaxed in lots of ways, and that the whole thing is almost like in the spin cycle, we’re waiting to see how it comes out. And I think we have some people who are very much in favor of having old school dress codes, and others that say it’s an appearance bias, and it makes no difference to performance. I agree with the latter. I think having chipped nail polish is no reflection on anyone’s competence, my personal area of lines of boundaries well, all around hygiene. You know, I think if you’re handling food, if you’re in a medical role or something like that, I think people need to feel that they’re being things that are clean and hygienic, then my personal room?


Debbie Goodman  11:32

Well, that would be I guess, intrinsic to the job. But I think the point being that, why does it matter whether I have chipped nail polish, or a broken T shirt or wearing a hoodie or having brushed my teeth? Or, you know, whatever it is? If not? So I guess the question is arising based on the fact that up until we, up until the disruption, there were sought certain dress codes, companies were quite specific about how they wanted individuals to show up in the workplace. I mean, we know that they have been picked very particular and in some cases quite stringent and rigorous dress codes, party gender based, especially for women. Fortunately, in most instances, those have shifted and relaxed and changed. But I certainly know that when I was entering the workplace, there were certain protocols, I had come from a formally I was an artist, I was a professional dancer, I didn’t have any office clothes whatsoever. I didn’t even know how to dress. And so somebody had to school me on what you needed to wear in order to look appropriate and professional in a work environment. I was schooled into understanding that that was the right way to do things. In addition, it was the viewpoint and I wonder if this was just an urban legend. But assuming that you needed to show up in a certain way, you also wanted to dress the part. We’ve also heard that right over and over and over dress the part I want dress for the job you want meet your client where they are, it’s kind of being considered a sign of respect to to look a certain way. And so I wonder how many of those norms those ideas are being challenged right now? Because it feels like there’s a lot of pressure even on those ideas that we’ve held as, but isn’t that the way we do things?


Dorothy Dalton  13:32

I think I think this is once again, it’s something that’s in the mix. I think a lot of the old codes have gone. I mean, it was only in 2016 that in London, a young woman was sent home from work because she wasn’t wearing heels. I mean, can you imagine? You’re kidding, that’s only six years ago? Yeah, only six years ago. And so now that has completely changed. I’m a big fan of teams, setting their own guidelines and deciding what they all agree is, is they how they want to work together. You know, someone might not want to brush their teeth. Well, for me, that would be a hard no.


Debbie Goodman  14:12

Yeah, there’s definitely the hygiene factor has because there’s hygiene,


Dorothy Dalton  14:16

there’s safety, there’s multicultural differences, obviously, if you’re dealing cross culturally, and the other thing that’s quite interesting is sometimes, you know, I had a period in my life where I worked in sales, and you never dress better than your client. Okay, because they would think you were earning too much money. So oh, how interesting. Yeah, so it’s quite interesting if suddenly you can see your client is going towards the hoodie and sneakers that you know that you don’t pitch up in your, you know, your designer suit or whatever. So I think it’s about reading the room and being flexible, but having agreed Room Rules between your teammates like for example, that a lot of If organizations don’t have perfume in the office, because we have allergies, this sort of thing, you know, they might have skin rules.


Debbie Goodman  15:10

So what I’m seeing as a needing to evolve. And one of the things that I’m advising when I’m in my advisory capacity on hybrid solutions is around establishing norms and expectations on a team wide basis, or even a company wide basis, because they have changed and they are new. And what we did early on in the pandemic has also changed, there was so much relaxation of absolutely everything in order to essentially accommodate the collective trauma of, of the early pandemic experience, but we’ve evolved since then even they almost need to be a recalibration, almost like a renegotiation and interrogate interrogation of what’s okay and what’s not okay, and why I think to just slap on blanket policies and rules, because this is the way we think, or we’d like, versus having a collaborative conversation, as you’re saying, with with groups to say, okay, when we’re, when we’re in just hanging out together, this is how we want to be. And when we’re in engaging with clients in a different way, perhaps there’s a different mode, I noticed, actually, I’ve just been in South Africa with my with my team there. And I previously had a no jeans rule. Everybody knew that when we got together as a team, Nobody wears jeans. And in particular, when we were when we were out and about when we were, say, for example, having a team lunch, we were representing the company, we needed to look professional, no jeans, and that was the rule I had put in place. And then I was in Cape Town, and I rocked up in a pair of jeans. And my team were like, I could just see the jaws on the floor, like, how could I do that? And I realized even like my, you know, things have changed. Why on earth wouldn’t I wear jeans, they’re comfortable, I look fine. So I’d have made a bunch of changes in my head, but hadn’t communicated that to the rest of the group. When I arrived, showing up in a in a different way. They were absolutely astounded. And I wonder if they’d had a judgment against me, too, you have


Dorothy Dalton  17:18

The most important thing, is that the way you look – there’s no relation to your competence. So I think that’s really important. I think it’s it’s around hygiene, cleanliness, and the response of people that people you’re reacting with. So I think they’re the things that you have to factor in.


Debbie Goodman  17:39

Agreed, I think what needs to be factored in – and if I want listeners to select what’s the one of the key things that they can actually take out of this is – if there hasn’t been a discussion around how are we now doing things around here in all ways, but including our attire, our personal grooming, our nails, I mean, it seems that that’s definitely a hotter topic than I could ever have imagined. But for we’ve got a lot of leaders, HR professionals, facilitators, coaches, and consultants who, who are listening, and this is a real conversation to have maybe awkward, could be fun and exciting to challenge one another on what’s appropriate. And why? Because a lot of these ideas have just been passed on through generations and might have absolutely no relevance or merit any longer.


Dorothy Dalton  18:30

I think the key thing is to ask the question, you know, Question, listen, find out what people want. I mean, you’ll see from that little thread that I had that Iran, very polarized opinion, I think, in polarized times, you know, I think if people can get bent out of shape about nail polish, then, you know, they can get bent out of shape about pretty much anything, anything. Yeah. So I think it’s about you know, listening to the polar polar opposites, finding something that works and then agreeing it with with your team,


Debbie Goodman  19:01

and sometimes agreeing that we’re going to try it out for a while and and review in a in a period because I think all of these disruptions take time to settle and have unintended consequences that we might not be able to anticipate at the outset, from big decisions like returning to Office and the massive impact on an ecosystem to something something smaller, like whether or not to look a certain way. So, Dorothy, this has been such an unbelievably interesting and fascinating conversation. We could be here for a long time, but I have committed to listeners, that I’m only I’m only expecting them to be here for 20 minutes or so. So thank you are you’re in Spain right now.


Dorothy Dalton  19:41

I’m in Spain right now. And happily, the temperature has dropped.


Debbie Goodman  19:45

Enjoy your vacation. Thank you for spending time with me. And thank you for inviting me.


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