LONDON Forcing women to wear heels, revealing clothing and makeup in the workplace is evidence that existing equality legislation is not “fully effective”, according to a new government report.
The government inquiry into workplace dress codes comes after a woman was sent home from her temp job for refusing to wear high heels. Her story prompted over 150,000 people to sign a petition calling for it to be made illegal for a company to require female staff to wear heels at work.
“The government has said that the existing law is clear, and that the dress code that prompted this petition is already unlawful,” reads the report, authored by the Petitions Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee.
“It is clear that the Equality Act 2010 is not yet fully effective in protecting workers from discrimination,” the report continues.
Discrimination is still widespread
The report said that “discriminatory dress codes remain widespread” despite the existence of the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits workplace discrimination.
As part of the inquiry, the committees ran a web forum inviting members of the public to submit their experiences of workplace dress codes. In just one week, they received 730 responses, in which women detailed their experiences of imposed dress codes.
“We 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 blonde, to wear revealing outfits and to constantly reapply make-up,” reads the report.
‘Humiliating’ and ‘demeaning’
Women also told the committees how these dress codes made them feel, which according to the report painted a “stark” picture.
“Workers find dress codes which require them to wear high heels to be humiliating and degrading, and demeaning. Some commenters felt sexualised by their employers insistence on high heels,” the report said.
The report called on the government to conduct a review of this area of the law and to ask Parliament to amend it, if necessary, to make it more effective. The report said that legislation needs to do more to prevent employers breaking the law.
The report also asked for detailed guidance and awareness campaigns targeted at employers, workers and students.
“The government has said that it expects employers to inform themselves about their legal obligations and comply with the law. This is not enough. We have heard evidence that, in certain sectors, breaches of the law are commonplace,” the report continues.
Sam Smethers chief executive of women’s rights organisation Fawcett Society said that the dress codes have no place in workplaces in 2017. “Sexist dress codes which objectify women and make LGBT+ employees feel excluded have no place in modern workplaces,” said Smethers.
“Employers need to focus on what drives productivity and enables their staff to feel part of a team.It isn’t a pair of high heels,” Smethers continued.