Recent national and international reports claim that women are still being forced by some employers to wear high heels, make-up and revealing clothes. And whilst it’s worth noting that it’s not discrimination to request your employees to dress appropriately and professionally for the workplace; the question now being asked is what does ‘appropriate’ actually mean in our modern, style-conscious society?
So how can you stay in control of your personal style and avoid discrimination within the workplace; as an employee and employer?
Challenging dress codes
If you’re an employee and don’t feel you’re able to challenge a dress code you are required to follow, or feel put off from launching a claim of discrimination, there are organisations you can turn to for support. However, you need to be honest with yourself and question if you’re dressed the most appropriately for your role and organisation. Only then you can weigh up if it’s worth pushing the case forward against your employer.
Health and safety
The College of Podiatry has claimed that women who wore high heels for long periods of time had reduced balance, reduced ankle flexion and weaker muscle power in the calf. The Trade Union Congress, predominantly male, has argued for some time that high heels are demeaning to women while they also contribute to long term injuries; proposing instead that women wear "sensible shoes." Yet MPs recently concluded that employers are not expected to take dress codes such as high heels in to account while calculating health and safety risks. So the requirements to wear high heels remain widespread and yet many women believe heels are sexy, they boost self-confidence and are empowering to women…and should continue to be a personal choice.
Employees feel sexualised by their employers
Requirements to wear makeup, short skirts or even dye their hair blonde made some workers feel sexualised by their employer and deterred their career progress, MPs found. The Fawcett Society, the UK’s leading charity promoting gender equality and women’s rights at work, at home and in public life, recently said; “There have been statements from women expressing that being asked to look “sexy” in the workplace leads to the uncomfortable realisation that the business they work for is profiting from their bodies.” Women believe this sends out a message that their appearance is of more value than their skills, experience or voices.
Is the Equality Act adequately protecting workers?
So is this evidence that the Equalities Act 2010 is inadequate? Only two days ago, a parliamentary report concluded that the Act is not yet “fully effective in protecting workers from discrimination.” Does this mean that a new legal framework needs to be put in place to halt such discrimination? The report goes on to recommend that a publicity campaign be launched to ensure that employers know their legal obligations, and that workers know how they can complain effectively. It suggests that guilty employers should be required to pay compensation to every worker affected by their discriminatory rules but with troubling reports still being reported in the press, the present government needs to be called upon to review this area of the law and eliminate ‘stereotypes’ at work.