Sexist dress codes are alive and well

UK inquiry finds women are still required to wear high heels and make even more drastic changes to their appearance...

Sexist dress codes are alive and well

Picture by Dave Thompson PA Archive/PA Images

Discriminatory dress codes requiring women to wear high heels and make-up to the office are still widespread in the UK, according to a new report that calls on the British government to do more to protect female employees.

An inquiry into these dress codes was launched by the Petitions and Women and Equalities Committees last year, after London worker Nicola Thorp launched a petition when she was sent home from her new job at accountancy firm PwC for refusing to wear high heels.

It has concluded that the Equality Act 2010 does not go far enough to prevent gender discrimination in the workplace.

Petitions Committee chair Helen Jones said:

"It's not enough for the law to be clear in principle – it must also work in practice.

It's clear from the stories we've heard from members of the public that Nicola's story is far from unique.

"The government must now accept that it has a responsibility to ensure that the law works in practice as well as in theory."

The inquiry heard the complaints of hundreds of women suffering pain and long-term damage due to wearing high heels for long periods. Others reported that they were even required to wear revealing outfits, keep their make-up topped up and dye their hair blonde by their employers.

Picture by Dave Thompson PA Wire/PA Images

Women in 'insecure jobs' already feel 'vulnerable'

It concluded by voicing its concern for affected workers, "many of whom are young women in insecure jobs who already feel vulnerable in the workplace".

It concluded:

"The Government has said that the dress code imposed on Nicola Thorp was unlawful – but requirements to wear high heels remain widespread. It is clear that the Equality Act 2010 is not yet fully effective in protecting workers from discrimination.

"The Government has said that it expects employers to inform themselves about their legal obligations and comply with the law. This is not enough. We have heard evidence that, in certain sectors, breaches of the law are commonplace. Pushing responsibility onto employers to find out their legal obligations and comply is a strategy which is not working. The Government needs to do more and must do it quickly.

"We recommend three main solutions to this problem: for the Government to review this area of the law and to ask Parliament to amend it, if necessary, to make it more effective; more effective remedies for employment tribunals to award against employers who breach the law; and detailed guidance and awareness campaigns targeted at employers, workers and students.

British campaigners  are now saying that it is crucial that laws are changed so gender neutral dress codes become the norm.

Sam Smethers of The Fawcett Society, a charity promoting women's rights, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

"Employers need to focus on what drives productivity and enables their staff to feel part of a team. It isn't a pair of high heels."

As a result of Thorp's petition – which called for it to be made illegal for UK employers to require women to wear high heels – garnering over 150,000 signatures, it will be debated in Westminster on March 6th.