Virtual drag a thorny issue for employers

In recent years, companies have begun using virtual worlds such as Second Life, OpenSim, Forterra and Qwaq to hold virtual meetings — and employees have begun using avatars, or cartoonish animated online characters, to represent themselves in these meetings. Some companies and employees pick avatars that reflect their real identities — but other avatars are fantastical, whimsical, or gender-bending.

As virtual worlds become serious business, however, corporate dress codes are being extended to the virtual worlds in a variety of ways — some more controversial than others.

For example, in many jurisdictions, a company may not discriminate against employees who are in the process of changing their gender, or who have already done so. The laws do not cover casual crossdressing by non-transgender employees, however.

As a result, companies are allowed to insist that employees have avatars that reflect their offline identities, or to comply with the same dress code that is in place for physical workplaces. However, many companies, including IBM, are taking a more progressive approach and allowing employees more flexibility with how they express themselves, including changing genders in an online environment.


Harper Jean Tobin, policy counsel at the National Center for Transgender Equality

Harper Jean Tobin, policy counsel at the National Center for Transgender Equality

Casual crossdressers who are not undergoing gender transition are not currently protected by any state laws, said Harper Jean Tobin, policy counsel at the National Center for Transgender Equality. “Nor do I know of any court cases about it.”

In addition, she said, an employer is allowed to specify a dress code for business-related functions – and can extend this to virtual environments.
“A company could apply some analog of the workplace dress code to online places where you’re essentially at work,” she said. “For example, you can’t dress as a pirate, or show up in your avatar in a bikini to a meeting.”

Switching back and forth from a male to a female appearance might be covered by such dress codes.
A company can require that employees present themselves in a consistent and professional manner while at work and make clear who they are, she said, but can also decide to be flexible on this issue.

“There are some companies who have just decided that it is good business practice to be accommodating to a person’s gender expression even if they’re not consistent all the time,” she said.

According to Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, virtual crossdressing at work has not been considered in any legal or legislative way, though companies can certainly dictate the format of the employees’ email addresses – requiring real names, for example.



And transgender employees should certainly be allowed to express their new gender online, she said.

“If other women are permitted to be women online, then transgender women should be permitted to be women online,” she said. “But if someone is not transgender – maybe not.”

The key is consistency, she said, applying the same rules for both transgender people and for non-transgender people.

Meanwhile, she said, casual crossdressing at in physical work places by non-transgender employees is not an issue. “It’s not a problem that comes up. It doesn’t happen.”

It might be that employees don’t take virtual environments as seriously as they do their physical work environments.

“People are still getting used to the idea that there is a real aspect of virtual spaces,” she said. “When you’re engaging in a work experience in a virtual space, you’re still in the workplace. People are still wrapping their heads around what’s appropriate.”

Today, 12 states and over 100 cities, including most large cities, have laws on the books prohibiting workplace discrimination against transgender individuals, she said.

“Almost exactly 40 percent of the population lives in jurisdictions with gender identity protections,” said Keisling. In addition, there is currently a bill up before congress – the Employment Non-Discrimination Act – that is expected to be approved and signed into law.

It makes sense for companies to embrace best practices in this area, whether or not they have employees in jurisdictions that already have these laws on the books.

But an employee filing a grievance would have to demonstrate that they have been discriminated against because of their status as a transgendered person or because of their gender identity. For example, if an employee faces discrimination for dressing as a woman outside of work, on personal time, “that might be considered gender identity discrimination.”

“But the employer might have an expectation that someone be consistent in how they express their gender identity in the workplace,” she said. “And if someone is born male and presents as male in the work place, they can expect them to be consistent with that, regardless of what they do in their private life.”


Dan Parks at Virtualis Convention Center

Dan Parks at Virtualis Convention and Learning Center

Dan Parks, president and creative director of Corporate Planners Unlimited, Inc., a corporate events and travel company, has also been offering virtual events services for the past year.

Parks works with about twenty people in his company’s Virtualis convention center in Second Life. Those who are company employees are dressed in a company uniform – black pants and white shirt with the corporate logo, of the same gender as the actual employee. And their user names are composed of their real names, combined with the company name. None have asked to change their genders.

“But if one of my employees was a woman, and asked to have a man avatar in Second Life, I wouldn’t have a problem with that,” he said. “Or if a man wanted to be a woman.”

However, some contract staff have already come to work as the opposite gender.

“One lady who worked for me last year, putting together a tour vehicle, was a man who had a woman’s avatar,” he said. “It may have even been a transgendered person – I didn’t ask.”

This contractor wore very provocative clothing, he added, but had no contact with the company’s customers.

If an employee with customer contact came to him and asked to change their online gender, Parks said, he wouldn’t have a problem with it, “as long as he represented himself professionally and kept my business.”

But if customers, complained, Parks added, it would be a different story. “If this turned into something that my clients responded to, said ‘I’m uncomfortable with this,’ I would go with whatever my clients wanted,” he said.

Ultimately, an employee working for a company is there to protect the company brand, he said.

Corporate Planners also creates avatars for clients. For example, when organizing a conference, he and his staffers will create avatars for everyone who plans to attend with a conservative business appearance. If the customer requests custom avatars they can be built using actual photos of the people. Or the avatars can be customized to a limited degree – with just hair color and hair length, for example, he said. So far, nobody has asked for different genders.

But as business in the virtual worlds continues to grow, the gender and identity boundaries are only going to be pushed further.

“It’s going to get crazy,” Parks said.


“Bruce” — not his real name – has been dressing as a woman in Second Life for over five years. His female avatar is a bubbly, buxom blonde with many friends – and a better track record in virtual sales than his usual glum male self.

He’s been spending about half his online time in female form, he said, starting with a job in which he was selling products to role playing customers. His boss was a woman he knew in real life who was running the virtual store, and was aware of his gender-bending – in fact, he was logging in as her female avatar when he was on the sales floor. This eventually expanded into a full-fledged second identity as female.

Bruce didn’t want to be quoted under his real name, since his friends and acquaintances – both offline or in Second Life – don’t know that he has a second identity as a woman.

Bruce doesn’t consider himself a transgender individual. “I like my real life gender,” he said. “And as far as I know I’m not gay or in denial.”

But being a woman online has some advantages, he said. “Everyone loves my alter ego,” he said. “Including me. The fictional character is more beloved than I could ever dream of. It’s a powerful experience when everyone is glad to see her coming. Playing a chick is making me more successful at everything – including relating to women.”

He recently applied for an internship in his female persona – then decided to come out as a man.

“It’s important with co-workers not to blow smoke,” he said. “It never turns out well.”

In the future, he said, he would use his realistic male avatar when applying for jobs – unless the potential employer was a fan of the female character.

His advice for other job seekers: “Be honest.”


IBM is often considered to be one of the most conservative organizations out there, but in fact it is quite progressive when it comes to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights issues. In 1984, IBM was among the first major companies to add sexual orientation to its U.S.non-discrimination policy. There is an active GLBT business community, and, since 2002, IBM’s corporate guidelines prohibit discrimination based on “gender identity or expression.”

It’s not just a political statement – in this case, a progressive approach is also good for business. In a white paper addressed to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender customers, the company wrote: “We know that you prefer establishing relationships with vendors that give back to the GLBT community. Vendors that provide a level playing field in their workplaces for GLBT employees. And have openly GLBT staff working with customers.”

That inclusiveness extends to the virtual worlds as well, where employees routinely show up for staff events – and even meetings with customers – in avatars of a different gender.

IBM senior architect Peter Finn attended a virtual meeting Friday in which two people, out of thirty, had opposite gender avatars.

“We have lots of men at IBM who dress as women in-world when they are with customers,” he said – and IBM is fully supportive of these employees. “We are proud of them,” he said.

Finn also added that other countries may have more inclusive human rights laws, protecting both transgender individuals and crossdressers from discrimination.

Craig Becker

Craig Becker a.k.a. Jessica Qin

One high-profile cross-dressing IBM employee is Craig Becker, the global architect for IBM’s Emerging 3D Internet and Virtual Business Enterprise Business Unit. In Second Life, he appears as Jessica Qin, a pale blonde with dramatic makeup. Becker led the design and construction of IBM’s public facilities in SecondLife. In real life, however, he is a happy married father of two children.

He makes public appearances and makes no secret of the fact that he’s a woman online – and a man in real life.

That doesn’t mean that IBM has an “anything goes” policy for virtual worlds.

According to IBM’s Virtual World Guidelines, avatars should “make the right impression.”

“In general, your digital persona’s appearance is up to you,” says the company. “When you are using your avatar or persona in association with IBM, however, your judgment in these matters should be shaped by the same general guidelines that apply to IBMers in physical environments … that your appearance be appropriate to the context of your activities. You need to be especially sensitive to the appropriateness of your avatar or persona’s appearance when you are meeting with IBM clients or conducting IBM business.”

IBM suggestions that employees may need to draw a line between business-related and personal activities.

“Management may require or you may decide it is necessary to have a separate avatar to conduct IBM business,” the guidelines say. “If you are engaged primarily for personal uses, consider using a different avatar.”

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Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China. Follow me on Twitter @MariaKorolov.

20 Responses

  1.' Cala says:

    Thanks again Maria.

    The key point, to me, is the fact that my Transgender identity is not part of my professional identity, any more than my co-workers' Disabilities, Race, Religion, etc are part of their professional identities. Virtual Worlds have done a tremendous good in providing equal opportunity to all of those groups, in similar ways. I should not be required to declare my personal identity in order to be accepted professionally. My professional identity is focused on my work history, my organizational skills, my communication skills, and my professional expertise. I am proud to represent my company on those perspectives alone. All personal identities have no place in a professional work environment when deciding who to employ, who to partner with, and which references to invite to the bargaining table.

  2. Cala —

    I absolutely agree with you. That's why the law protects people with transgender identities. The question is: do I treat someone with a female avatar online as if he were a transgender person, if he doesn't present as such in real life? And insists he's not?

    People do treat other people differently based on gender and sexual identity — and it is sometimes appropriate to do so. For example, if I had a relationship problem, I might turn to my close female colleagues, or my gay male friends. But I would not raise the question with a straight male colleague since it might be seen as an romantic invitation.

    If I have a colleague who I meet virtually who I know of as a woman, I might engage in "girl talk" with her to help improve trust and communication between us. As we got closer, I might share personal information that I would only share with another woman. If I later met this colleague off-line and found out that he was a straight man, I would feel violated and betrayed.

    The laws on the books are there to help people reveal who they are. We wouldn't need laws protecting gays and lesbians unless gays and lesbians wanted to share their personal lives with their colleagues at work — to put up pictures of their spouses, to invite colleagues to their weddings, to gossip about relationships. These laws are there to allow people to be more honest, more truthful with their customers, colleagues, and bosses. And this is a great thing. Nobody should be forced to live a lie.

    But should the law protect someone who is choosing to live a lie in one particular environment? "Bruce" found that being a pretty woman made him more popular, and a better sales clerk. Does this justify protection?

    If a gay man pretends that he's straight and then eventually comes out as gay, or as someone who should have been a woman, I wouldn't blame him for lying to me up until that point. After all, there is still a great deal of prejudice out there and coming out is a major life decision. He might have been worried about losing his job, or losing custody of his children, or being forced out of his church.

    But if someone lies to me about key aspects of his identify for casual or frivolous reasons, to make a sale, or so that it's easier to make friends, then to me this is a different issue.

    Is the GLBT community going to embrace this group of people? Should it?

    The other aspect of this is when people don't do it deliberately to deceive, but just to be creative. For example, some men don't hide the fact that they are straight men when they use a female avatar online, using their real male name as the avatar user name, for example, or putting this information into their profiles. Do you then treat this person as a man or as a woman in online interactions? If a man wore a female outfit to, say, an office Halloween party, then I wouldn't start referring to him as a woman. If I wore a man's tie to work, I'd be offended of someone referred to me as a "he." It takes more than a casual change of appearance to indicate to people that you're changing your gender identity.

    It would be nice if someone were to come out with a nice set of guidelines for this.

  3. I don’t believe the solution to the problem is any more complex than it is in the physical office environment, and we should not confuse the situation my attempting to create two sets of rules for conduct(eg. 1 for online, 1 for physical office). In my opinion, online reality absolutely must be a direct extension of physical reality in the workplace. Just because VR can enable a different representation from the actual physical, does not mean that it should be required. We do not use VR in the corporat environment as a new medium for personal expression. We use VR in the workplace as a tool for conducting business. It that way, it is no different than email. Email would allow me to create a gender variation for myself online, but if this is different than how I represent myself in the physical office, I fail to see the business value of allowing such variation. It is extremely important that business decision makers start to think of VR as an essential tool for performing everday business tasks, and that what happens in VR is serialized with what happens in physical reality. if we try to take VR onto a parallel plane, we will loose the argument about business value. So, companies need to establish a viable guideline for employee behavior in the physical world, and this must be mirrored in VR.
    I do of course recognize that nothing is ever that simple. For example, if an employee is in a wheel char in real life, how should they be represented as an avatar? this is a complex question that must address: the employee’s own desires, technical challenges(adding a wheel chair element to an environment takes time/money), and and how other employees indentify with that person.
    Laslty, are Accessibility and Gender questions in the same category of discussion? or are they two very different questions?

  4.' Nink says:

    Virtual worlds are the next evolution in technology and provide a platform for the convergence of human persona’s and digital media into a single environment. The early adopters of virtual worlds are some of the brightest and creative people in our society. Virtual worlds enable us to interact with the global community without borders or constraints exposing everyone to the wonderful diversity across our planet.

    As our world becomes flatter I understand many people will struggle with accepting others irrespective of there religion, race, gender, color of skin, sexual orientation or even the choice of avatar gender and attire.

    It is only through education and understanding that we will finally be able to break down the barriers of discrimination and judge people based on their actions and strength of character and not on their outward appearance.

    I urge everyone to embrace our differences, be tolerant of others. Even if you don’t agree with someones personal beliefs please do not be bound by preconceived ideas of what is or is not acceptable in society. If a person is performing a role or function at the level required in order to accomplish an assigned task without breaking any laws than this should be sufficient to earn our respect and admiration.

    When we are supportive of a persons “choice” and enable them to be valuable contributions to our companies and society we will all enjoy the benefits that diversity brings.


  5. Cala —

    You misunderstand me. I'm talking about misrepresentation. For example, if only seeing-eye dogs are allowed in a workplace, someone can't pretend to be blind just to bring their dog to work. They might argue that everyone should be allowed to bring dogs to work, but that would be up to the individual company, and would depend on how many dogs were being brought to work, and how disruptive it was becoming to other employees.

    If you're a particular religion, you can ask to take your religious holidays off. But you can't switch your religion just for the holiday and then switch back again.

    If you decide to change genders and start dressing in the other gender's clothing, then, after seriously thinking it over, decide to return to your original gender, I understand. If you switch genders just to land a sale with a difficult customer — I'm going to have problems with that. I would also be unhappy if an employee pretended to be of a different religion in order to get a sale, or told a customer that he was, say, part-Cherokee or went to the same school as the customer when it wasn't true.

    Gender, orientation, religion, race — these are significant issues of identity. People struggle with these issues. In real life, changing any of these is not a casual decision. People who do come under extreme social pressure and face discrimination. Companies need to take extra steps to ameliorate this, such as investing in special accessible technology, providing minority mentoring programs, offering preferential treatment to female-owned vendor companies, holding cross-cultural seminars, and providing counseling to transitioning employees and their coworkers. These programs take time, money and effort to do right.

    It would be ridiculous to expect a company to expend the same efforts for employees who are only pretending to be handicapped or a minority, or of a different culture. We would not give pregnancy leave to someone only pretending to be pregnant.

    There is a difference — a vast and significant difference — between transitioning to living as a different gender (even if no surgery is involved) and casually switching gender in a virtual environment (or, say, at a holiday party).

  6.' Cala says:

    Thank you for exploring this topic further Maria.
    The tone of your first post on the topic concerned me, and I appreciate you diving into some of the nuance and engaging commenters. Interviewing NCTE was a fantastic move, and I hope you don’t misinterpret the answers from them, so I have 3 comments.

    First, the separation of “crossdressing” as a separate topic from “Transgender” is incorrect, and can cause some ire in the TG community, so please be careful with terminology. Transgender is an umbrella term that covers a broad spectrum from Drag Queen & Kings, Crossdressers, Genderqueer, Third Sex, Androgyne, and a variety of others, all the way to Transsexual. All people who self-identify in any part of that spectrum are Transgender, regardless of their choice to physically transition. Most Transgender people I know don’t even *have* the option, as medical transition is horrendously expensive and must be paid out of pocket, and has to happen in the middle of a multi-year process where you’re required (Harry Benjamin Standards of Care) to crossdress for a full year before surgery and legal gender change can happen, and of course retaining your job, family and home through that process is unlikely except for a lucky few. Non-surgically transitioning people are the larger majority of the Transgender community, though for many reasons are usually less vocal and politically active.

    Second, my own situation is relevant to the discussion. If you were to meet me face-to-face you would 99% of the time gender me as Male, unless you are so detail-oriented to notice which side my shirts, slacks, or jeans are buttoned on, or you’re curious enough to notice my shoes or jewelry. Most folks who pick that up assume I’m queer, but in fact I’m also Genderqueer, something I’m very open about with my family, my partner, all of my close friends, and all of my co-workers and business partners that I get to know personally. I have crossdressed every day at work for the past several years, but because I prefer professional androgynous clothing most people just don’t notice, and it certainly isn’t an issue of professional image. I have *always* used female avatars in Second Life on a personal & professional basis. Due to personal medical & financial reasons, chemical and surgical transition isn’t an option for me, but I’m also perfectly happy expressing my femme side the ways that I can. I’d be interested to hear more of your thoughts of my situation and that of Jessica Qin, the IBM example, and how our gender identity expression can find a welcoming place in your professional world.

    Third, I know I’m lucky to work for a very progressive company that embraces its Diversity policy whole-heartedly. I relish that- actually, I *LOVE* that and it is a huge part of why I’m so loyal to my employer. I want to encourage you and any other readers of this post to consider actively promoting your open positions *also* to GLBT-focused job boards, and not just to Monster and the like, where minorities tend to become less visible in the noise. Having alternate voices as part of your company’s chorus is critical to understanding the diversity of your customers. Due to the absence of ENDA and the open legal public rejection of GLBT employees from many US companies (and our ex-military DADT victims), there are tens of thousands of unemployed talented and experienced potential employees that would jump at the chance to work hard for a company that will welcome them and judge them purely on their ability to do the job with excellence and professionalism.

  7. Cala —

    For employers such as myself, the issue is not so much with transgender employees whose visible gender expression does not match their physical bodies.

    The issue I’m discussing here is employees who do not identify as transgender who casually use female avatars for virtual meetings. Are they protected by the same laws as those who identify as transgender and are undergoing the very difficult process of completely transitioning to a new gender?

    The man I interviewed for this article, for example, as well as many others I have met in Second Life and on the various OpenSim grids, do not wear women’s clothes in real life, do not express any desire to become a woman in the physical world (whether through outward expression or through surgery).

    There is no pain or difficulty involved in changing gender online. No embarrassing talks with parents, friends, or spouses. No painful discussions with HR personnel and coworkers.

    Is this legally protected? Not in the United States (I’ve been trying to find international laws on this, but have come up blank so far). Some companies, like IBM, do guarantee their employees the right to “gender expression” which has been taken to mean that male IBM employees have the right to use female avatars online, including in customer meetings.

    But I can see how it would be confusing to a customer to meet physically with someone who looks like one gender, and meet them online and have them be another gender. In real life, there would usually be a moment of uncomfortable explanation about the gender transition, and the customer would have to make the (sometimes difficult) mental switch to call the employee by the new name, and refer to them with a different pronoun.

    Should we be extending the same privileges — new name, new gender identity — to employees who are only the other gender when online? And even then, not always? “Bruce” spends about half his time in a male avatar, with a male name and shape. I regularly see him online in both identities. Mentally, I get around this by pretending that he’s two different people and treating him as such in social situations. If he was my employee or coworker this would create logistical nightmares.

  8.' Cala says:

    I would transpose “it would be confusing to a customer to meet physically with someone who looks like one [race], and meet them online and have [their avatar] be another [race]”… and ask, why would that be an issue for your company? What would your professional reaction be a customer, partner, or investor who raised the issue?

    Should we require our employees with disabilities to have avatars in wheelchairs and remain ground-bound, so as not to confuse anyone, despite the fact that they can now fly?

  9. Cara —

    Actually, one of the experts I talked to did bring up the race issue.

    Mara Keisling, Executive Director, The National Center for Transgender Equality: “Let’s say a white staff person says I want to have a black avatar, I want to have an avatar that’s a different race. We obviously have to be sensitive about that. We would want that staff person to be sensitive to the race question around us.”

    The relevant question wouldn’t be “can a person in a wheelchair have a walking avatar?” the relevant question would be “can a walking person have an avatar in a wheelchair”? If there are handicapped people in the office, this can be seen as very insensitive. Or the person pretending to be in a wheelchair can be trying to get some advantage out of it — like George Costanza did on “Seinfeld.”

    Are we required to treat a person who’s in a wheelchair voluntarily the same as someone who isn’t?

  10.' Cala says:

    i’m sorry if I took this conversation off-track. I thought we were discussing professional relationships with other businesses and employees of businesses that we interact with. The title does say “HyperGridBusiness“.
    I would hope that in a professional environment, if you had a relationship question, you would feel equally welcome to discuss that with a peer or mentor regardless of their gender, (dis)ability, race, sexuality, religion, etc. On a personal level you could have any preference of peers, priests, or leaders to reference, of course, but that shouldn’t unduly influence your professional decisions, especially if you’re in a large respected public corporation, who have policies and procedures of respect for minorities.

    The simple answer to “Are we required to treat a person [with some legally protected difference] voluntarily the same as someone who isn’t?” in a professional environment is Yes, and the law is moving quickly to enforce that with gender identity & sexual orientation, just as it has with disability, race and religion in the past. The majority of Fortune 500 companies include such rights in their policies, not just for their own employees but also for their partners, and how they treat their other customers (partners being an important type of customer).

  11.' helen says:

    I don't understand the comment that "Casual crossdressers who are not undergoing gender transition are not currently protected by any state laws." There are thirteen states plus the District of Columbia, and well over 100 cities and counties statutes that include gender identity and gender expression in their anti-discrimination regulations (Transgender Law and Policy Institute, Also, many colleges, universities, and employers include these protections. I don't know that there's a legal precedent regarding avatars but I would think that even "casual crossdressers" are expressing their own sense of their gender.

    As for "transgender" being an umbrella term that covers a broad spectrum, it's true than many people use it that way. And, there are crossdressers who don't consider themselves transgendered, transsexuals who don't consider themselves transgendered, transsexuals and crossdressers who don't want to be under the same umbrella, people who think of themselves as transgendered but not transsexuals nor crossdressers. In other words, pretty much any possible definition of these words is used by some people and, often, because it's about identity they tend to feel strongly about it. So if you're talking about them, use the words that they choose for themselves.

  12.' Ener hax says:

    one quote in the post "i would go with whatever my clients wanted" i suspect does not actually mean "anything". Dan has done great work isl and truly understands it, i believe that if a client wanted avatars to spell out their private details in their profiles, he would defend their right to privacy. i also agree that Dan can ask his virtual employees to present a certain side to the world while they are on his dime. they need to support his vision and not take away from it within reason. as with many things, if there is such a conflict that an employee wants to have more freedom – guess what? they can go out and buy their own sims and build their own business. Dan is very good at what he does in-world and works very hard to build his business (it takes real work to get a Twitter following like he has, that is his time and effort to build his brand – one of the many things he does to reap the successes he has)

    okay, onward – where does this "identity" definition stop? if you are overweight, should your avatar represent that? many people portray themselves younger, in shape, less gray, and so on

    let's pick on me – so i like to build as a beaver – it's pretty gender neutral and i like it because i am Canadian (the beaver trade defined a lot of our history – plus i would like to think i am as industrious). i am no slouch isl, i have 12 sims and do little projects here and there in-world

    so if i can do my task in-world, isn't that enough? does the ability of someone to judge me because of gender add to the experience? that's an obvious one – what about religion? if i am a Jewish beaver does that matter?

    bravo for Dan on being open and IBM as well, they get it – you can't bs in second life on whether you can build this, or script that – a quick click on the object will reveal if a little beaver built it.

    what does having a specific genitalia have to do with much of anything?

    *beaver steps down from his/her/it's soapbox*

  13. Ener — One other factor to consider is how much interaction an employee's avatar has with investors, clients, and other employees. The more outside contact an avatar has, the more the avatar will need to represent the company's image (whatever that image is — creative, conservative, smart, geeky, etc…) — especially if that avatar belongs to the company itself.

    An avatar used only for behind-the-scenes work like building or scripting and doesn't have any customer contact will probably have a lot more flexibility in what they wear — just as an employee buried deep in a corporate basement and never coming up for sunlight is usually granted more flexibility as well.

    A lot of confusion also seems to be created by the fact that some employees are using personal accounts for corporate work, instead of using company accounts — similar to using a personal email address instead of a corporate address. As more companies set up private grids and create official company avatars for their employees, this will be less and less of an issue.

    — Maria

  14.' Ener Hax says:

    Maria that is a wonderful analogy to the personal versus corporate email address. in that light, your avatar appearance is similar to your email signature

    i like that analogy. i have been at some places where you had a very defined sig and others that allowed a little leeway, but always some standard

    in that case, i could see your work avatar needing to reflect you more closely and not see it as an extension of my personal self (just like it would not be appropriate in my corporate email sig to put a link to my personal portfolio website)

    in that case, a robot or non-gendered furry would be my choice, lest we go back to the 60s and be judged more on our gender (lol, like that does not still happen!)

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    […] Virtual drag a thorny issue for employers – Hypergrid Business […]

  5. January 5, 2010

    […] about the person behind the character. There’s an article on Hypergrid Business about “Virtual Drag a Thorny Issue for Employers”. I especially liked the quote, “A company can require that employees present themselves in a […]

  6. January 20, 2010

    […] becoming an issue in the workplace. No, it’s not that your boss found your flickr page. But Hypergrid Business says some companies are extending dress codes to online meetings, while others are encouraging […]

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