In Britain, the High-Heel Rule Falls Flat

When Nicola Thorp reported to work as a temporary receptionist at an accounting firm in London back in 2015, she ran afoul of the firm’s dress code: She had come to work not in high heels, but in flats. This made sense, for she would be spending nine hours on her feet escorting clients to meeting rooms. But she was ordered go home and put on a pair of heels at least two inches high, The New York Times reports. When she refused, she was sent home without pay.

That was some dress code. It “warned employees against such things as greasy or highly gelled hair or wearing flowers as accessories. It had also called for heel height to be two to four inches and for makeup to be ‘worn at all times’ and ‘regularly reapplied,’ with a minimum of lipstick, mascara and eye shadow,” according to The Times.

Outraged, Thorp started a petition calling for a law that would make sure no company could ever again demand that a woman wear heels to work.

“The petition garnered more than 150,000 signatures, helped spur a popular backlash — dozens of professional women posted photographs of themselves on Twitter defiantly wearing flats — and prompted an inquiry overseen by two parliamentary committees.”

In mid-January 2017, two years after Thorp was sent home from the office, the House of Commons Petitions Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee released a report declaring that “it has become clear in the course of our inquiry that this was not an isolated incident—and nor is the problem confined to high heels. 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.”

The report concluded that the dress code violated the provisions of the Equality Act 2010. Stronger enforcement is needed, said the committees, since it is hard to change longstanding attitudes and traditions.

Score one for Nicola Thorp.

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