The Government has rejected calls to outlaw company bosses from forcing female employees to wear high heels at work.
The Equalities Office made the decision to not introduce a new law banning companies from requiring women to wear high heels in the workplace.
They said existing legislation was ‘adequate’ to deal with discrimination on gender grounds, but it would issue guidelines to firms this summer.
Heels became a hot topic in Britain after receptionist Nicola Thorp was sent home without pay from her job as a receptionist at finance firm PwC in December 2015 for wearing flat shoes.
Last year she started an online petition that gathered more than 152,400 signatures and triggered a debate in Parliament.
Thorp has called the committees decision a ‘cop-out’. She told the Press Association:
“It’s a shame they won’t change legislation. It shouldn’t be down to people like myself … I do think it is a little bit of a cop-out.”
“As it stands, the Equality Act states an employer has the right to distinguish between a male and female dress code as long as they are not deemed to be treating one sex more or less favourably.
“Unfortunately, because of intrinsic sexism and the way in which business works in the UK, when employers are allowed the freedom to decide what is fair and unfair it tends to be women that lose out.”
The inquiry on workplace dress codes highlighted cases where women were made to wear heels even for jobs that included climbing ladders, carrying heavy luggage, carrying food and drink up and down stairs and walking long distances.
Others were told to dye their hair, reapply make-up, have manicures and unbutton their blouses to entice male customers.
In a response to the report published on Friday morning, the government said that “the scope for redress already exists” under the Equality Act 2010. Staff could complain to their bosses or to a tribunal, the government said.
Maria Miller, who chairs the Women and Equalities Committee, said:
“Equality legislation is not sufficient to achieve equality in practice.
“This petition, and the committees’ inquiry, have reinforced the need for effective enforcement of legislation and for employers and employees to be aware of their obligations and rights.
Professor Binna Kandola, OBE, an expert on diversity and gender discrimination in the workplace at Pearn Kandola, has 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.”