Staff Management

“Your Interview Is Here… And They Have Pink Hair!”

Bethany Fishbein, OD, with Kailey Blakeley. They emphasize the importance of judging potential new hires by their personality, skills and experience rather than their sometimes creative appearance.

Dr. Fishbein with Kailey Blakeley. They emphasize the importance of judging potential new hires by their personality, skills and experience rather than their sometimes creative appearance.

Rethinking what it means to look “professional.”

By Kailey Blakeley 
and Bethany Fishbein, OD 

Oct. 4, 2023

Kailey’s face, adorned by multiple piercings and framed (this month) by teal and chartreuse hair, is the first face most of our patients see when they enter our professional, medically focused, high-end optometric practice.

She’s an absolute rock star who embodies our practice’s CLEAR core values — she is caring, loves to laugh, is eager to learn, adaptable and reliable. She makes our patients feel comfortable, keeps our schedule full and our day on track, and is a great asset to the team.

What Does “Unhirable” Mean Today?

She’s also a person that our practice would have immediately deemed “unhirable” 10 years ago.

Kailey knows this, and says, “It’s something that is always at the front of my mind when interviewing. Facial piercings, tattoos and hair color without a doubt impact the way you are viewed by potential employers and the beliefs they currently hold regarding presentation of physical appearance.”

Practice owners who want to attract top talent need to realize that many potential employees do not define themselves by their careers. They know that their values hold more importance than the color of their hair or artwork on their skin, and are not willing to sacrifice their ability to express themselves. Great employees have many opportunities in today’s job market, and are looking to align with companies and employers who appreciate and see potential in their individuality.

What is a “Professional Appearance”?

It had long been accepted in optometry practices and other businesses that “professional” means looking a certain way. Not all that long ago, this meant male… and white. A generation ago, suits and heels were expected in a professional environment.

Throughout history, standards like this have created injustice and divide between people of different races, genders and generations, contributing to more people feeling dissatisfaction and disconnection in everyday life.

Slowly, people have begun to question these standards. Women outnumber men in today’s optometry school classes, and although Black students are still under-represented, Asian students outnumber their white classmates at many schools. Well-respected doctors in all specialties are showing their “true selves” on social media — tattoos, bikinis and all.

Starbucks updated its policies allowing visible tattoos in 2014, and again in 2016, allowing workers to “make a statement with hair color.”

Practice owners, particularly those in conservative areas or with an older patient population, often worry about what their patients will think.

Patients Are More Open-Minded than You Think

“Honestly,” Kailey says, “I’ve noticed older patients make up a majority of the people who compliment my hair, piercings and tattoos. Whether they love it, wish it was something they could do themselves, or are simply curious about it, it’s been a huge point of connection. I feel it gives silent permission for others to be their authentic selves, despite expectations. A majority of these older generations did not have the freedom to do these things and still be accepted as a successful member of society. Though it may not be for everyone, I think there is a common appreciation in living through these major changes and watching others have the opportunity to experience life in a more fulfilling way.”

Encouraging self-expression has long been a mainstay of optical recommendations. We all encourage patients to see eyeglasses as a colorful and fun accessory that can be changed to enhance their style, create a look or make a statement– are hair color and piercings any different?

Celebrating Diversity & Inclusivity

Diversity and inclusivity are being celebrated in advertising by optical companies, whose recent campaigns showcase uniqueness in their models as well as their frames.

According to Joe DeLoach, CEO of Practice Compliance Solutions, “There are 24 states who have specifically passed laws that say employers cannot discriminate on texture or characteristics of hair. With the focus on anti-discrimination in America, it would be extremely ill-advised in any state to hang your hat on someone’s hair color (pun intended?) or anything related to their appearance as a reason not to hire them.”

Updating your dress code may not feel like the most important thing on your to-do list, but building a strong team probably is. Hiring based on ability, heart and alignment with practice values (and not on outward appearance!) is an absolute best practice for employers, and creates a ripple effect that positively impacts the working environment for current and future generations alike.

Kailey Blakeley and Bethany Fishbein, OD, work together at Somerset Eye Care, a practice in North Brunswick, N.J., which Dr. Fishbein is a partner in.

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