Sexist dress rules must stop, say MPs

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A Government report has concluded that women who face demands at work to wear high heels, makeup or revealing outfits require a new legal framework to halt such discrimination.

The joint report, ‘High Heels and Workplace Dress Codes’, comes from parliamentary committees for Petitions and for Women and Equalities and said that the Equality Act 2010 should ban discriminatory dress rules at work.

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

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

A government spokesperson said:

“No employer should discriminate against workers on grounds of gender – it is unacceptable and is against the law. Dress codes must be reasonable and include equivalent requirements for both men and women.

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

Professor Binna Kandola, OBE, an expert on diversity and gender discrimination in the workplace at Pearn Kandola, comments:

“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.”

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