A study into workplace dress codes has found “troubling” experiences affecting female workers forced to adhere to “sexist dress codes”. Women workers have been instructed to dye their hair blonde, wear revealing outfits and reapply make-up, a parliamentary report has found. Parliament held an inquiry into dress codes in the workplace following reports that a woman was sacked for not wearing high heels. More than 150,000 people signed a petition in support of London receptionist Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from work after refusing to wear high heels. Thorp, 27, arrived at finance company PwC to be told she had to wear shoes with a “2in to 4in heel” and when she refused and complained male colleagues were not asked to do the same, she was sent home without pay. Ms Thorp said: “This may have started over a pair of high heels but what it has revealed about discrimination in the UK workplace is vital, as demonstrated by the hundreds of women who came forward. “The current system favours the employer and is failing employees. It is crucial that the law is amended so that gender neutral dress codes become the norm.” The Petitions Committee and Women and Equalities Committee said it became clear in the course of its inquiry that this was not an isolated incident.
The Fawcett Society said that requiring women to abide by gendered dress codes, often of a sexualised nature, sent out the message that their appearance was of more value than their skills, experience or voices. “There have been statements from women expressing that being asked to look ‘sexy’ in the workplace leads to the uncomfortable realisation that the business they work for is profiting from their bodies,” said the campaign group. The society cited examples of women being asked when working in a casino to carry a make-up kit to be used whenever using the bathroom, and others being criticised for wearing loose clothing on a hot day. Helen Jones, who chairs the Petitions Committee, said: “The Government has said that the way that Nicola Thorp was treated by her employer is against the law but that didn’t stop her being sent home from work without pay. “The Government must now accept that it has a responsibility to ensure that the law works in practice as well as in theory.” TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Far too many employers are still stuck in the past when it comes to dress codes. It is unacceptable that in 2017 bosses are still forcing women to wear painful, inappropriate shoes and uniforms.”
Equality and Human Rights Commission chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said: “In a modern business, it’s simply wrong, and frankly antiquated, that any woman should be made to follow a dress code telling them how to look in a way that would never be asked of men. “The height of my heels has no relevance to how good I am at my job. We are looking for test cases which will bring this issue to the national attention.” A Government spokesman said : “No employer should discriminate against workers on grounds of gender – it is unacceptable and is against the law. “Dress codes must be reasonable and include equivalent requirements for both men and women. “The Government Equalities Office will carefully consider this report and will work with its partners to make sure employers comply with the law.”