There has been a bit of a ‘wobble’ within the media over recent days, with the findings of a report from the Women and Equalities Committee and the Petitions Committee announcing that women are regularly told to abide by discriminatory dress codes for work.
This all follows a previous story about a young woman who was employed as a temp at a large professional services firm. On arriving at the job, she was told to change her smart black flats for 2-4 inch heels.
Ms Thorpe refused and was asked to leave the company unpaid. She subsequently launched a petition (they didn’t see that coming!) which encouraged over 150,000 signatures and achieved national headlines throughout the country in both print and across broadcast.
There are a few things I want to make clear here before we start:
1. It is not ok to ask people to unbutton their shirts – ever
2. It is not ok to ask people to wear shorter skirts – again, ever!
3. If you have a dress code you must make it common knowledge before offering someone a position – it is not right to dismiss them afterwards
I have heard stories of PR agencies making people unbutton shirts before pitches and have seen pictures whereby teams (all women coincidentally) have been made to wear tight skirts and shirts in ‘corporate colours’, which by the way looked ridiculous!
The problem lies in the fact that these examples are extreme.
The issue here goes far beyond 4-inch heels or the press coverage that this story has generated. As is often the case, the truth behind the problem is dictated by the decisions that we make and the industries we choose to work in.
A doctor as an example has to wear scrubs. I’m sure that they don’t feel attractive in them and many would prefer to work in jeans and a t-shirt or perhaps even a dress and flats but that isn’t possible because it is permitted that they follow the rules of their employment for hygiene reasons.
You could – and I’m guessing you will – argue that an office is not a fair comparison and I agree BUT when you work in a professional environment there are certain expectations about dress code.
I would never put in place a dress code at Open Comms, it would go against everything we believe in, but I do expect that everyone in the team is a true representation of our brand and business – which isn’t ripped jeans and a t-shirt.
We don’t all dress in suits every day and on occasion we will come in wearing trousers and a top. There is absolutely no ‘rule’ in terms of footwear but again I wouldn’t expect anyone to turn up in trainers or wellington boots – the team use their judgement and know that they are representing Open when they are at work.
Within a half-page piece in the i newspaper, it said that the report findings had found “They heard repeatedly from women who said their feet would bleed and that they were in so much pain they were unable to walk properly or lead a normal life.”
Now, come on. I don’t know anyone at all that this has EVER happened to. I wear heels most days and I don’t suffer from feet that bleed or pain when I walk because I wear shoes that fit me properly, and I really don’t believe a 2-inch heel for most people would cause too many problems.
I think the main point of the piece, which is eluded to but not spelt out, is that people want to wear what they choose – they don’t want to conform. I don’t agree at all with the extreme cases that are shared across the papers and to unbutton shirts and roll up skirts turns my stomach but there has to be some degree of making better judgements when you decide where to work.
As many of the jobs that are referenced are within the professional services you would expect that these people do in fact have choices and it is the responsibility of the employer to share any dress code during the recruitment process. It is then up to the candidate to decide if they abide by that or not.
We need to be really careful in these instances that we don’t get caught up in believing that looking smart and making an effort is to be criticised. I enjoy wearing dresses and heels to work, I like to feel smart and professional. When I wear jeans I’m usually at home and my mindset is completely different.
For me, putting on a dress, skirt or trouser suit takes me from Lin to Lindsey from Open Comms. I don’t think I’m alone in this thought and I hope that some common sense prevails over the coming weeks because quite frankly I don’t want to have to wear flats for fear of being demonised for choosing to wear 4-inch heels to work.
The extreme cases need to be dealt with but one size does not fit all. The impact that this report has on certain industries could be very damaging – and not for those wearing the heels!