It was a bit of a David and Goliath triumph last week for Nicola Thorp, the actress and receptionist sent home without pay from finance firm PricewaterhouseCoopers for not wearing high heels. The news sparked a debate — which came to a head as a new parliamentary report found some women are still being forced to wear high heels, make-up and clothes by their employer. That is despite the Equality Act 2010, which aims to protect workers from discrimination.
It’s a one, this. Because asking people to look , smart, and appropriately dressed for their environment is right and . Workplace uniforms are a way of life and most offices have them. And needless to say, there are different rules for different industries. You are not expected to dress the same way in a bank or a law firm as you would at an advertising agency.
A problem arises, though, when there is pressure on women to “look the part” and “the part” is not about looking professional, but sexy or “feminine”. High heels are about looking sexy, not smart. As I see it, it is perfectly possible to look and smart without a heel “two to four inches” high.
I love high heels, by the way. Sometimes I like nothing more than strutting my stuff in a pair, the higher the better. But I usually restrict them to “car to bar” situations. In other words, I CHOOSE to wear them when all I have to do is have fun and when I don’t have far to walk. That’s the thing about heels. When you wear them, you can’t walk, run or do very much. Also, wearing high heels on a basis can cause foot, knee and back problems. And that’s why high heels and make-up should be a choice, not a condition of the job.
Being forced to sport either is the epitome of sexism, not least because of the implication that how you look is more important than the job you do. Until now, it seems, women have felt they had no choice but to put up with this policy in some workplaces. And when you consider fees to bring an employment tribunal can cost up to £1,200 — which is a bit if you are on minimum wage — most women probably can’t afford to challenge these overtly sexist policies. Also, who wants to be the wheel when you are “just” a temp?
What strikes me most about this story is how it is that Nicola had the courage to challenge something that wasn’t previously being questioned.Having been sent home without pay for refusing to wear high heels at work, she recognised her employer’s policy for what it was — and started a petition that garnered enough signatures for people to take notice.
I don’t tend to sign petitions, usually thinking: “What’s the point?”
But this story goes to show both that petitions can work and that it IS challenging the status quo — even if you are just one of the little guys.
Until you challenge things, they stay the same.