UK workplace study finds women forced to wear heels

Women revealed how they were made to wear short skirts and six-inch stiletto heels whilst at work. Photo / 123RF
Women revealed how they were made to wear short skirts and six-inch stiletto heels whilst at work. Photo / 123RF

A black woman applying for work at Harrods was told she would not get the role unless she chemically straightened her hair, a Parliamentary committee heard as MPs urged the Government to clamp down on gender discrimination in the workplace.

In evidence presented to the Petitions and Women and Equalities Committees, MPs were told a woman seeking work via one agency on behalf of the Knightsbridge department store was allegedly forced to chemically straighten her hair because her natural style was deemed to be "unprofessional".

Today's disclosure follows the publication of a joint Committee report entitled 'High heels and workplace dress codes', revealing that female workers across the country are being forced to dye their hair blonde, wear revealing dresses and constantly reapply makeup at the whim of unscrupulous employers.

Other women revealed how they were made to wear short skirts and six-inch stiletto heels whilst working at restaurants, financial firms in the City of London, and high street department stores.

Nicola Thorp, 27, who was formerly employed as a temp worker at London-based agency Portico, told MPs: "In one of the interview sessions that I attended, the woman who held the interview [on behalf of Harrods]...would go around the room and say, 'You need a makeover, you need a makeover, you're fine, you need a makeover.'

"She pointed to a black girl who was being interviewed and said 'You can't work for me unless you have your hair chemically relaxed, because your hair, as it is, is not professional enough.' We just sat there and nodded and agreed because we needed the job."

Harrods refused to comment, however, a spokeswoman for TBC Management, understood to be the agency to which Ms Thorp was referring, strongly denied the allegations, adding "no one would be asked to chemically straighten the hair. It isn't company policy and it never has been."

Simon Pratt, managing director of Portico, said the company "fully supported" the Committees' recommendations, adding that it had already its dress code policy following Ms Thorp's case.

The report's publication coincides with new research released today by the Chartered Management Institute, showing that 81 percent of UK managers witnessed gender discrimination in the workplace in 2016.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Ms Thorp - who made headlines last year when she was sent home from her receptionist job for refusing to wear four inch heels - said the report was "tackling a very serious issue - not just a pair of shoes."

"I hope that the Government will now bring an end to forced dress codes. This goes to the heart of gender discrimination. There needs to be proper penalties, because right now there seems to be this culture of companies seeing if they can get away with it."

Today's findings come in the wake of a year-long campaign to outlaw discrimination in the workplace after Ms Thorp's case sparked a national "high heels row", resulting in a petition against gender-based dress codes receiving more than 150,000 signatures.

In order to stamp out the practice, the report calls on the Government to increase financial penalties for companies found to be enforcing sexist dress codes and to launch a national campaign in order to raise awareness among female workers of their legal rights.

Maria Miller, Minister for Women and Equalities said the report's findings revealed the need for the Government to close existing loopholes in order to make the law "bite" bosses that continue to circumvent employment rights.

"What we need is to give the law teeth, and to make sure that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission is doing its job properly and providing women with the help they need. It needs to support them so that the burden does not fall too heavily on individual women-especially those who already feel their employment position is precarious."

"Employers appear to risk non-compliance because the likelihood of any serious consequences are minimal."

A Government spokesman 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."

This story was originally published by The Daily Telegraph.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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