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Vanguard’s Kathleen Gubanich, on why the firm loosened up its dress code

The Vanguard Group recently made headlines for loosening up its dress code — an unusual move in the financial services industry. I recently spoke with Kathleen Gubanich, managing director for human resources, to find out more about the story behind the change, as well as employee reactions. You can follow Vanguard on Twitter at @vanguard_group.

Vanguard recently updated its dress code. What’s the story behind that?

It was a big change for us. We moved from a “business professional” dress code to a “business appropriate” policy, which really puts the responsibility on each individual to dress for his or her day. For most people (and on most days), relaxed professional attire works well. There are still times — like when we meet with clients — when we want to look our very best. So, people are not getting rid of their suits.

What do you see as the biggest benefit to this shift?

Listening to our crew members is very important to how we operate. Crew members have expressed a desire for more flexibility and responsibility in day-to-day decision making. This was a great way to empower the crew.

Vanguard has 12,700 employees working across the globe. What was your strategy in communicating this change to such a diverse group of people?

Our CEO Bill McNabb made the announcement to all crew members through his internal blog. From a communications strategy standpoint, this was a bit of a risk, because the blog was only a few months old and it was still gaining traction in terms of  readership. Any doubts were quickly put to rest after the announcement was made. The blog post received more than 20,000 hits. That means that essentially everyone read it, then read it again. Good news travels fast.

What kind of feedback have you heard so far from workers?

It’s been very positive so far. People like the policy, and they appreciate the way in which it was delivered. We did not want to be too prescriptive in listing wardrobe dos and don’ts.