Women In Comms

UK Women Take On Discriminatory Dress Codes

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.

Women in Comms' first networking breakfast and panel of 2017 is coming up on Wednesday, March 22, in Denver, Colo., ahead of day two of the Cable Next-Gen Strategies conference. Register here here to join us! (Makeup and high heels not required.)

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, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Director, Women in Comms

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Sarah Thomas 1/26/2017 | 11:47:30 AM
Are they high (heels)? When I first saw this reported with a picture of a six-inch stilleto, I figured the employee was sent home for wearing heels that were dangerously high (like they were worried about her safety...). Can't believe it is the opposite. I understand dress codes to outline appropriate attire, like not wearing flip flops or revealing clothing, but to tell women how to dress femininely is ridiculous, especially in 2017 yet I'm not surprised it's still a big issue in some roles and industries. Maybe men should be mandated to wear high heels too. They wouldn't last an hour.
Mitch Wagner 1/26/2017 | 12:01:19 PM
Re: Are they high (heels)? This story was definitely a big WTF for me.


In my observation, some women seem to be able to wear high heels just fine and can be comfortable with them for ten hours standing on a concrete floor. Other women find them torture to even put on at all. Nobody should be required to wear high heels ... unless maybe they work in a high-heeled shoe store?
Sarah Thomas 1/26/2017 | 12:17:37 PM
Re: Are they high (heels)? Ha good point, Mitch. I've seen work places that require closed-toe shoes (either because of a safety issue or professional attire mandate). That makes more sense and applies equally to both genders.

High heels make no sense. Plus, I hate seeing, and being, a woman who can't walk in high heels. Looks so silly. 

I will note, however, that wearing loud, fun heels was advice given at a WIC event in the past, but the point was about not being afraid to be yourself and to stand out in the workplace: http://www.lightreading.com/business-employment/women-in-comms/wic-pics-speak-up-and-wear-fabulous-shoes/d/d-id/718226
Mitch Wagner 1/26/2017 | 9:05:16 PM
Re: Are they high (heels)? Both men and women in enterprise sales tend to be extremely well dressed, wearing well-made, tailored suits. 

But I knew one sales manager who advised his team -- particularly women -- to make a point to wear comfortable shoes, even if the shoes weren't great looking. He said they were less likely to close a sale if their feet hurt. 
freehe 1/26/2017 | 10:26:02 PM
Re: Are they high (heels)? @Mitch Wagner, too funny. He was a good manager, he was more concerned about sales than conforming to a certain standard.
freehe 1/26/2017 | 10:28:30 PM
Re: Are they high (heels)? @Sarah Thomas, thank you for the great article. I had no idea women were being discriminated like this in the UK. I wonder if the companies have dress codes for men as well, tight fighting shirts and pants, dress shoes, three piece suits, double-breasted suits or suits with buttoned up shirts and ties?

freehe 1/26/2017 | 10:34:39 PM
Re: Are they high (heels)? @Mitch Wagner, I never had that experience. I had the opposite experience. I worked for Ross Perot's company Electronic Data Systems which is now defunct. They had strict dress codes for women and less relaxed dress code for men.

For example, women had to wear skirts below the knee, lose fitting clothing, no see-through and low cut tops, no splits in skirts, no off-the shoulder tops, etc.

Men had to wear slacks and shirt and slacks and a shirt and tie.

In the summertime women could wear sandals with stockings, heels or closed top shoes with skirts or dresses.

Men could wear dockers and polo shirts and any time of shoes except sneakers.

The women of the company protested for months about the different dress codes and they changed them slightly. Women could wear open-toe sandals without stocking but they had to be a certain style of sandal.

freehe 1/26/2017 | 10:36:19 PM
Women's Rights It is saddening and unfortunate that women across the globe are viewed as pieces of property and have to be humiliated or degraded at the workplace in addition to everywhere else women go and frequent.

Women rights have come a long way but there is still much work to do.
freehe 1/26/2017 | 10:37:56 PM
UK Women Dress Code I don't think the UK dress code to wear four-inch high heels, red nail polish and a low-cut blouse to the office would go over well in the U.S. I can see many sexual harrassment complaints and lawsuits.

I am glad that in general most women in the workplace in the U.S. are not required to dress in that manner.
Mitch Wagner 1/26/2017 | 11:35:10 PM
Re: Are they high (heels)? But was there a rule requiring women to wear shoes with heels of a certain height. 

I did not discuss it with him, but I expect that sales manager expected his team to maintain a dress code. But the dress code recommended comfortable shoes. 
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