Despite all the hoop-la surrounding sexist dress codes which require women to wear high heels to work, the UK Government last week rejected calls to place an explicit ban on these and similar dress codes.
The Women and Equalities Committee heard evidence from Temporary Receptionist Nicola Thorp (above) who had been sent home from work for wearing smart but flat, comfortable shoes, and also heard from black women who had been told to chemically straighten their hair, women forced to wear a certain type of make up and even staff ordered by employers to dress provocatively in order to entice business.
The reason given for rejecting a formal ban on sexist dress codes was that the Government believes existing gender equality legislation already covers the issue and that employers are flouting the law.
Maria Miller, who chairs the Committee, expressed her disappointment, saying that current equality legislation is “not sufficient to achieve equality in practice,” although the Government Equalities Office has asked employers to review their dress codes and “consider whether they remain relevant and lawful”. They also plan to introduce guidelines later this year to improve workers’ awareness.
Professor Binna Kandola, OBE, an expert on diversity and gender discrimination in the workplace at Pearn Kandola, commented:
“Neither men nor women should be unfairly asked to dress in a certain way within the workplace. If both men and women are instructed to be smart, then this should not be a problem. However, if instructions are given to women (i.e. you must wear make-up and heels), but not to men (i.e. you must wear a tie), then gender bias is at play.
Interestingly, women are more likely to be stereotyped in the workplace if they dress in more ‘feminine’ ways. It was not that long ago that female police officers had to wear skirts and carry a handbag. They were also far less likely to be assigned to key operational roles. Unfortunately, their dress had contributed to the stereotype that men were stronger and more active.
Furthermore, some companies might demand a particular way of dressing, and then blame it on their customers. This is a convenient way of not taking responsibility for their own views and should not be used as a reason to act unfairly; companies can also guide their customers to do the right thing.
We will await with interest to see the new guidelines issued by the Equalities Office over the summer.”