Trim your facial hair, please

Posted on June 20, 2006
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Economy & Development, Religion, Society
27 Comments
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Adil Najam

I have no idea what to make of this one, so let me just quote from a news-item titled “Habib Bank revises dress code notification at one branch” in The Daily Times (20 June, 2006). According to the report, Habib Bank Limited (HBL) sent a notification to all its Branches declaring a Western dress code (suit and necktie) and trimmed beards ‘mandatory’ for all bank employees, but then rescinded in the case of only one branch (as of yet).

Sources said the notification declaring formal dress ‘mandatory’ had [now] been reworded as ‘optional’ for the bank’s Lawrence Road branch.

HBL Senior Vice Presidents Zafar Aziz Usmani and Jamila A Khan on June 13 notified (by circular number STF 24/2006) bank employees to strictly follow a Western dress code and trim their beards. “The bank’s performance is poor because clients are put off by the unkempt look given by wearing shalwar kameez and having long beards,” they said.

The story then goes on to report the case of Khalid, a Grade-II officer at the branch, who had resigned to protest the bank’s decision to enforce the dress code but later took back his resignation letter “after senior bank officials assured him the dress code was optional.”

He called the HBL’s order against the spirit of Islam. “I have been working at the bank for the past 30 years and submitted my resignation to protest against the Western dress code being made mandatory,” he said. His religious beliefs stopped him from following the dress code, and he couldn’t sacrifice his beliefs for man-made laws, he added.

In what was quite clearly a ‘damage control’ measure, the dress code mandate was made ‘optional’ for this branch. It is not clear whether this will be followed in other branches, but…

Khalid Pervaiz Malik, the branch manager of HBL Regional Head Office, said the first notification was correct because staff members wearing suits and neckties looked more professional than those wearing shalwar kameez. “Authorities should take strict action in this regard because HBL wants to meet international banking standards, and clients notice such things,” he said.

So, dear readers, do help me make sense of this one. Is the implication that one cannot be presentable in a beard and wearing shalwar kameez? I hope not.

I can understand a bank wanting its employees to be presentable and look trustworthy. I have seen Pakistanis go to work with unkempt shalwar kameez. But I have seen even more looking not just unpresentable but silly and uncomfortable in misfitting, unkempt trousers, shirts and ties. If you want your employees to be presentable; ask them to be presentable. But, to think that one can look presentable only in western clothes is plain wrong and shows a sense of kalla saab cultural insecurity.

As for facial-hair-discrimination… do we even want to go there?

Dr. Abdus Salam? Abdul Sattar Edhi? Sir Syed Ahmed Khan? Presentable? You bet. Trustworthy? More than any banker I ever met.

P.S. If you are wondering, the picture on the right Sir Syed Ahmed Khan; on the left it is Dr. Abdus Salam receiving his Nobel Award; yes, wearing both a shalwar and a beard!

27 responses to “Trim your facial hair, please”

  1. Ameer Hamza says:

    I am not sure about the useless argument here. What is the issue with someone wanting to wear a nicely pressed suit and a tie. And equally, what is the issue and the hulla gulla over an issue if someone really wants to wear Kameez Shalwar. Some people really look wonderful in this dress; others don’t.

  2. Shariq says:

    To me, looking professional from appearance is very important at work. As I m living abroad, my experience says people usually wear the dress related to culture and it reflects with the businesses serving direct clients. I have seen people with beard in almost 5-6 countries in the world doing client services.
    All banks in Pakistan should concentrate more on providing services than on implementing dress codes. They should improve their customer services than other things. I remember, once I sent email to some senior officials of HBL & NBP in Us but there is no response yet. While, I sent similar emails to TD Canada and NIB USA and I got reply with ing 24 hrs.
    We are talking about a bank where people stays in queue for 3 hours to pay there bills and comparing with the banks of US, Canada and UK. They must be kidding
    HBL is loosing clients because they are facing more competition from Standard Chartered, HSBC and CITI banks and they are not able to provide services like them, not because of employees wearing shalwar kameez and having beard.

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