As International Women’s Day was celebrated earlier this month, great strides have been made toward creating more equality of the sexes, but there remains work to be done. For example, research shows women are still generally paid less than their male counterparts in many jobs.
But there’s another battle against sexism being waged, and while it’s taking place in Britain, it has implications on this side of the ocean, too. It involves corporate dress codes, specifically those which make it mandatory for women to wear high heels. The debate has reached the British Parliament, where lawmakers are saying it’s time for the corporate world to get in step with the times.
The dress code issue was triggered by Nicola Thorp, a receptionist who was sent home from her temporary job with a financial firm because she wasn’t wearing high-heeled shoes.
That prompted Thorp to launch an online petition calling such dress codes “outdated and sexist.”
Thorp worked for an employment agency called Portico whose dress code specified that female workers must wear non-opaque tights, have “regularly re-applied” makeup and wear shoes with a heel between two and four inches in length.
Thorp’s petition resonated with the public and collected more than 150,000 signatures, making it eligible for a debate in Britain’s Parliament.
As Parliament has looked into the matter, it has discovered that such discriminatory dress codes aren’t uncommon, even though British law forbids companies from discriminating against women.
An Associated Press story quoted Helen Jones, a Labour lawmaker who helped spearhead the parliamentary probe into dress codes, as noting, “We found attitudes that belonged more? I was going to say in the 1950s, but probably the 1850s would be more accurate, than in the 21st century.”
The parliamentary committee said it 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 blond, to wear revealing outfits and to constantly reapply makeup.”
Not everyone is in agreement that it’s being unfair to women. A banker quoted in the AP story suggested it was contradictory to say men had to wear a suit and tie but women shouldn’t have to wear high heels.
The point being missed is that wearing a suit and tie has not been linked to any health problems, whereas the committee was told by the College of Podiatry that women who wear high heels for long periods have “reduced balance, reduced ankle flexion and weaker muscle power in the calf” and are prone to disabling pain. Why change these well-established dress codes? To borrow a phrase from our prime minister: “Because it’s 2017.”
It’s well past time to do away with sexist, archaic dress requirements that expect women to endure discomfort because men want them to look a certain way.
Even Samantha Power, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations, offered her view on the debate. The New York Times noted that, in a Twitter posting, Power suggested: “The next petition should be one requiring men to wear high heels for a nine-hour shift before they insist women do.”