Workplace Sexism Still Has a Long Way to Go

It has been revealed that sexist dress codes at work are just the tip of the iceberg.

Women are still being forced to wear high heels, make-up and revealing clothes by some employers, a parliamentary report has found.

The report published on Wednesday  by two parliamentary committees, for Petitions and for Women and Equalities, claims current laws to prevent discrimination are not “fully effective”.

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.

 

he Petitions Committee and Women and Equalities Committee said it became clear in the course of its inquiry that this was not an isolated incident.

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, as well as from women who had been required to dye their hair blonde, to wear revealing outfits and to constantly reapply make-up.

The Government has said that the existing law is clear, and that the dress code that prompted this petition is already unlawful. Nevertheless, discriminatory dress codes remain widespread.

It is therefore clear that the existing law is not yet fully effective in protecting employees from discrimination at work. We call on the Government to review this area of the law and to ask Parliament to change it, if necessary, to make it more effective.”

– Parliamentary report

The MPs report recommends a publicity campaign be launched to ensure that employers know their legal obligations, that workers know how they can complain effectively and sixth-formers know their rights.

But its key recommendation is that the existing law should be enforced more vigorously, with employment tribunals being given the power to apply bigger financial penalties.

Guilty employers should be required to pay compensation to every worker affected by their discriminatory rules.

“The Equality Act is clear in principle in setting out what constitutes discrimination in law,” it said. “Nevertheless, discriminatory dress codes remain commonplace in some sectors of the economy.

“We call on the government to review this area of the law and to ask parliament to change it, if necessary, to make it more effective.”

The committees heard expert evidence that requirements to wear high heeled shoes were damaging to women’s health.

The College of Podiatry pointed out that high heels cause pain for a fifth of women within just 10 minutes. On average it said ill-fitting high heels are painful after 1 hour, 6 minutes and 48 seconds.

Such shoes can also be disabling if worn for a long time, the College warned.

Women said high heels impaired their performance and made them feel humiliated or sexualised. Some said they struggled to wear heels because of medical conditions including:

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Arthritis and osteoarthritis
  • Morton’s neuroma – caused by foot bones pressing against nerves over time
  • Spinal deformities or other back problems
  • Flat feet, wide feet, small feet.

 

 “The Government Equalities Office will carefully consider this report and will work with its partners to make sure employers comply with the law.”  

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