High heels can be uncomfortable and are not exactly practical when trying to walk long distances. In fact, heels weren’t even invented for walking – they were invented by Persian riders to help them secure their stirrups.
Today, women wear high heels as a fashion statement, but many prefer to wear flatter, more comfortable shoes that won’t leave their feet feeling cramped or painful by the end of a long work day. One woman, Nicola Thorp, was sent home from her receptionist job because she wasn’t wearing high heels. She had been hired in a temporary role by a guest and house service agency called Portico, whose dress code required women to wear two-to-four-inch heeled shoes.
Thorp, who is now an actress, was understandably confused by the rule, since not wearing heels to work would not prevent her from doing her job efficiently and correctly. In fact, heels would only hurt her while showing clients to meeting rooms. She told BBC Radio London, “I said ‘If you can give me a reason as to why wearing flats would impair me to do my job today, then fair enough’, but they couldn’t. I was expected to do a nine-hour shift on my feet escorting clients to meeting rooms. I said I just won’t be able to do that in heels.”
Thorp even started a petition – that has now reached over 150,000 signatures – in order to put a stop to strict dress codes at work. She said, “I was a bit scared about speaking up about it in case there was a negative backlash. But I realized I needed to put a voice to this as it is a much bigger issue… I don’t hold anything against the company necessarily, because they are acting within their rights as employers to have a formal dress code, and, as it stands, part of that for a woman is to wear high heels. I think dress codes should reflect society and nowadays women can be smart and wear flat shoes.”
Thorp also added, “Apart from the debilitating factor, it’s the sexism issue. I think companies shouldn’t be forcing that on their female employees.”
After all of this came out, Portico released a statement saying that they put those guidelines in place in order to make sure staff would be dressed consistently. They also added that they would review their guidelines and make any necessary changes. The Portico spokesman said, “In line with industry standard practice, we have personal appearance guidelines across many of our corporate locations. These policies ensure staff are dressed consistently and include recommendations for appropriate style of footwear for the role. We have taken on board the comments regarding footwear and will be reviewing our guidelines in consultation with our clients and team members.” Subsequently, Portico stayed true to their word and changed their dress code, realizing that requiring women to wear heels was unfair.
Of course, the company Portico had Thorp working for, PwC, had their spokesman release a statement, saying, “PwC outsources its front of house and reception services to a third-party supplier. We first became aware of this matter on 10 May, some five months after the issue arose. The dress code referenced in the article is not a PwC policy.”
The British government has since debated this topic and commented, “Company dress codes must be reasonable and must make equivalent requirements for men and women. This is the law and employers must abide by it.” While the government did reject the petition, they made it clear that companies should not be “discriminating against women in what they require them to wear.” They added, “Employers are entitled to set dress codes for their workforce but the law is clear that these dress codes must be reasonable. That includes any differences between the nature of rules for male and female employees, otherwise the company may be breaking the law.”
Women should always have the choice to wear flats or heels, especially if men are allowed to wear more comfortable shoes everyday.
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