What if you were required to wear four-inch high heels, red nail polish and a low-cut blouse to the office? It sounds ridiculous, but these are all mandates that women in the UK report being instructed to abide by in their workplaces.
They are why 152,420 women have signed a petition to make it illegal for a company to require women to, amongst many things, wear high heels at work. The petition, which will be debated in Parliament on Monday, March 6, came about after PwC temp receptionist Nicola Thorp was sent home without pay last November for refusing to wear two-to-four-inch high heels to the office, something her staffing agency Portico required as "part of proper female grooming."
She found out she wasn't alone in being forced to abide by inane rules aimed at women. After starting a petition to look into this, she heard similar stories of women being required to re-apply their makeup, highlight their hair blonde, wear revealing clothing and more.
The UK Petitions Committee and Women and Equalities Committee published a report, "High heels and workplace dress codes," this week detailing these experiences and calling on Parliament to better enforce the Equality Act of 2010. The law requires that company dress codes have equivalent requirements for women and men.
The report asks the government to take urgent action to improve the effectiveness of the Act and amend it, if necessary. It also asks for increased financial penalties for those employers who breach the law and awareness campaigns for employees, workers and students to better understand the law and workers' rights.
The report points out how damaging high heels can be to a person's health and well-being, but the bigger point is how archaic and sexist it is to require women to wear them. Dress codes like this, however, are still commonplace in some sectors of the economy, as the report found from the thousands of women who contributed their signatures and stories.
The government has so far left it up to companies to understand their legal obligations and comply with regards to employee discrimination, but the Committee posits that this has not been working and the government must now do more -- in the form of raising awareness and stricter penalties -- to enforce the Equality Act.
"The EHRC must find new ways to support anti-discrimination test cases and appeals, so that the burden does not fall too heavily on individual women -- especially those who already feel their employment position is precarious," Maria Miller MP, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, said in issuing the report.
— Sarah Thomas, , Director, Women in Comms