A new parliamentary report published yesterday – 25th January 2017 – calls for improved and updated legislation on female workplace dress codes after ‘troubling’ cases of sexism.
In May 2016 social media was sent in to a furore. The reason: Nicola Thorp, a London receptionist, who claimed that she was “sent home for not wearing heels” from finance company PwC. Portico, the temping agency that had organised Thorp’s placement at PwC’s reception for the day, had regulations requiring that she wear shoes with a ‘2in to 4in heel’. After complaining and pointing out that her male colleagues were not asked to do the same, Thorp was sent home without pay.
The incident sparked outrage across the UK; over 150,000 people signed a petition calling for the prohibition of companies that stipulate the heel-height of female workers. Inspired by Thorp’s case, the Women and Equalities Committee appealed to members of the public to submit personal examples of sexist workplace dress codes and .
Published today, a UK Parliamentary report adds further fuel to the flames, calling for a review to the Equalities Act 2010 in regards to current equality legislation on workplace dress codes. ‘We heard from hundreds of women who told us about the pain and long-term damage caused by wearing high heels for long periods in the workplace,’ reads the report, ‘as well as from women who had been required to dye their hair blonde, to wear revealing outfits and to constantly reapply makeup.’
Many MPs have also joined the discussion, claiming that the Equalities Act 2010 is ineffective in protecting female employees who were the victim of discrimination in the workplace. In 2011 the then Women’s Minister (and now the current Prime Minister) Theresa May dismissed allegations of sexist dress codes, arguing that ‘traditional gender-based workplace dress codes […] encourage a sense of professionalism in the workplace’. The Women and Equalities Committee pose a challenge to this previous statement, demanding urgent review and amendment to the current situation.
Championing and working towards equality in British society was one of the major points in May’s bid for Tory leadership in June. Whether or not her and her government will respond to the report and act to counter incidents like Thorp’s is still uncertain however.
What can you do to stop similar things happening? Firstly, challenge it like Thorp. Secondly, take it to the people. Thorp’s experience inspired more than enough signatures needed for debate in Parliament (100,000 are needed) where the issue reached those with the power to make lasting changes. And thirdly, keep campaigning against injustice. Be inspired by Saturday’s Women’s Marches: organised as a grassroots protest against Donald Trump’s Presidency and resulting in an international, record-breaking event.
Words by Esther Newman