business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Without moving a muscle, Jim Holt walked right into the middle of a cultural divide.

Holt, a small businessman in Kansas, didn’t know he had a rule in his company that would land him on Good Morning America, and The Wall Street Journal, but he did. The rule was this: women in his office were required to wear leg covering. In other words, they had to wear pantyhose.

Honestly, I didn’t know this was such a hot issue until I asked some women. Apparently, pantyhose doesn’t rank at the top of anyone’s comfort list. They are way too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter and that’s just the start of the complaints. Here’s a note to other men out there: don’t compare pantyhose to wearing a tie. A tie may be restricting, but it rarely starts sagging in unmentionable and uncomfortable places.

The cultural divide Holt encountered is that women younger than a certain age have almost entirely eschewed pantyhose, opting instead to go bare-legged. This trend has been spurred on by spray on toners and other such products that make legs look better than ever. Also by a push for comfort. In the process, pantyhose became an unnecessary problem.

When I asked women about this, the responses were equally interesting. One young woman (under 25) said she only wears pantyhose when she wants a complete professional look. Otherwise, it’s just not happening. Another woman, who was raised in Europe, said the debate doesn’t exist there. They are part of the professional attire. Others questioned how this became an issue at all.

Honestly, I have no idea how this became an issue worthy of The Wall Street Journal and ABC News (Google “pantyhose debate” and you’ll find the trail of coverage), but that’s how issues take off these days. The times keep changing and with them the standards of what is and isn’t part of the rules change too.

It’s happened to all of us. Whether it’s the changing rules of smoking, or how we should talk to other people in our offices or even the rights of different groups of workers, the changes are here to stay.

Those changing rules also mean the rites of passage aren’t quite the same any more. Today’s rising workers might be far less willing then their elders (including me) to have to pay their dues the same way they were paid in the past. Their reasons are pretty straightforward too. They don’t grow up today expecting lifetime employment, long pensions and completely free health care. They have seen how the workplace has changed and the impact it has had on family members.

It’s hard sometimes for us Baby Boomers to realize that we became the establishment. All those people over 30 who we weren’t supposed to trust many years ago are now sitting next to us in the doctors office complaining of the same symptoms we have.

As the times change all of us have to move with them. Jim Holt is an object lesson. He found out about his problem only after hiring a young human resources manager. Others can avoid this fate by making sure work rules are getting reviewed by diverse teams including people of different age groups, genders, races and ethnic backgrounds. (Holt may have enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame, but I’m better he would have rather focused on work.)

The great humorist Will Rogers once said that even if you are on the right track you can get run over if you are just sitting there.

In other words, start moving, start learning and get going. The train is coming and the odds are it isn’t wearing pantyhose.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .
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