I had worked at Stockholm University for a few months as a management consultant, when I was about to meet, together with a colleague, one of the deans of the University, to find out about what kind of management and leadership development was required among our managers and leaders. In the government offices where I worked before as chief secretary to a government commission, it was an unwritten law that if one was to meet the head of a Ministry, or the State Secretary, one should dress very formally. I had understood that a dean at Stockholm University is a key person with great influence and power. I had therefore dressed very formally, and put on a grey blazer and white shirt.

I work in Human Resources and we are based in the A-building of Södra huset. The dean I was to meet with worked in the Arrhenius Laboratories across the campus. On the way there, I went down first to the fourth floor of the A-building. It was the start of the term, so there were a lot of people most of whom were students who had just joined the University. I saw people dressed in many different ways and with many different hairstyles. Some had piercings, some had tattoos, some had long trousers and jumpers, others looked like they had come straight from the beach. Some had expensive designer clothes, while others appeared to have sewn their clothes themselves. Very few had a jacket on.

I walked across the grass toward the Arrhenius Laboratories. Once inside the entrance, I met a person who was dressed in jeans, sandals and blue sweater.

I thought he was the caretaker for the building.

I was new and did not know where the dean’s office was, so I asked the caretaker, "I am going to meet with the dean, do you know where his office is?”.

"Yes, I know, because you are going to meet me," said the dean who was definitely not the caretaker. Then we went up to his office in our different uniforms - I somewhat taken aback - and had a very good and productive meeting. I gained new insights and perspectives on management and leadership in academia, which I came to need in my job.

Afterwards I realised that I had not only met a wise person in a position of power, but I had even met my own conception of clothing and power. The meeting with the dean, and even the way to the meeting, became a journey of exploration of diversity. It became clear to me that you can dress as you like at the University, and that there are many different dress codes. This diversity is liberating and it feels very pleasant that regardless of position or rank, there is room for different styles and personal expression. A few weeks later I met another dean at another faculty. This time I did not have a grey blazer and white shirt. But he did. That meeting went well too.

Narrator: Karin Steffensen