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End sexist dress codes at work

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shoes at work, sexism, high heels, footwear‘If you can give me a reason as to why wearing flats would impair me to do my job, then fair enough’.

Another form of sexism and discrimination against women in the workplace has hit the headlines.

In the same week, two incidents highlighting the issue of sexist dress codes at work caused outrage across the internet and on social media.

It began when receptionist Nicola Thorp, 27, claimed that she had been sent home from her first day of agency work at corporate company PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) for not wearing 2-4 inch heels.

She told BBC Radio London: “I said, ‘if you can give me a reason as to why wearing flats would impair me to do my job today, then fair enough’, but they couldn’t.

“I was expected to do a nine-hour shift on my feet escorting clients to meeting rooms. I said I just won’t be able to do that in heels.”

She added, “apart from the debilitating factor, it’s the sexism issue … companies shouldn’t be forcing that on their female employees.”

Thorp said that she was laughed at when she pointed out that this policy was discriminatory and was sent home without pay after refusing to go and buy a pair of high heels.

At the same time, a photo of an American waitress’s bloody feet after having to do a shift in heels went viral.

Nicola Gavin took the photograph of her friend’s feet and said that she actually lost a toenail as a result of having to serve customers while wearing high heels.

Gavin also claimed that female employees of Joey Restaurants, the chain her friend works for, are required to spend USD30 to buy a black dress uniform while male employees can choose their own black clothing.

Unfortunately, these two incidents are not one-offs, as we discovered when we asked women if they had any similar experiences.

One woman who worked for an agency that puts employees in Harrods and in Oxford Street department stores told us that along with a pencil skirt, female employees had to wear heels of a certain height and have their nails painted to match the colour of their lipstick.

“I’d work for eight hours but within 15 minutes I’d be in pain, and I would spend my lunch breaks crying and rubbing my feet,” one woman said.

Another woman said that at a pub she worked in, people who gave in their CVs were rated out of 10 based on their appearance, and if they were regarded as anything under a 7, their CV would be put in the bin.

And in addition, during the World Cup female bar staff had to wear little shorts with knee high socks and were encouraged to wear heels during busy periods to ‘look sexy’ in order to attract customers.

A former employee of Specsavers also told us that she had to get a doctor’s note for her back problems so she could be excused from wearing heels.

“If I’d worn flat shoes, I would have gotten disciplinary warnings and eventually been sacked for not abiding to the dress code requirements – despite the fact that I was on my feet for eight hours a day,” she said.

These demands for ‘heels’ stem from the longstanding sexual objectification of women, who are regarded as submissive tools for attracting customers and clients instead of valuable employees equal to their male colleagues.

And the experiences of all of the women who have come forward since the stories broke suggest that the ‘sexy secretary’ and ‘sexy barmaid’ stereotypes are more prominent than we might like to think, even now.

It seems that in many cases, a woman’s value in the workplace is still based on her physical appearance and not her intelligence or skills she may possess.

And it is shocking that these practices are still rife in 2016, and that it is still legal for an employer to make women wear high heels at work.

Not only are these dress codes grossly unfair, given that they don’t apply to men, but they can also have negative health implications for women.

The damaging effects of wearing heels on a regular basis, particularly for the feet and back, are well-known, and the pain of doing so is too much for many women to bear – myself included.

The TUC, with admirable courteous understatement, has said in its health and safety guidance Working Feet and Footwear:  ‘In many occupations, in particular where staff deal with the public, employers enforce a dress code that includes footwear.

‘Sometimes this code prevents staff from wearing comfortable and sensible shoes and instead insists they wear slip-ons or inappropriate heels.

‘This can apply particularly to women.

‘Apart from being extremely sexist, these policies can lead to long-term foot problems. Safety representatives should ensure that dress codes do not prevent people from wearing comfortable, healthy footwear.’

Women can still look perfectly smart and professional at work without wearing high heels, skirts or make up – it is not as if the only other alternative is tracksuit bottoms.

There is absolutely no reason why dress codes shouldn’t be the same for men and women, and perhaps this would afford women a little more respect in the workplace (we can but hope…).

Women already face a lot of challenges at work, particularly in male-dominated industries, and the last thing they need, and deserve, is to have to tackle these challenges while enduring the pain and discomfort of wearing high heels.

According to ibtimes, the agency in Nicola Thorpe’s sorry story, Portico, has since changed its uniform guidelines, and PwC’s spokeswoman has since then said: “We are now reviewing our supplier uniform codes to ensure they are aligned with our own values.”

So if we could only get the issue raised more widely…

You can sign Nicola Thorp’s petition to make it illegal for a company to require women to wear high heels at work here. Please do.

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